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After brawls, NY juvenile facility allows temporary use of pepper spray

The waiver was granted when several large fights erupted after a new law transferred teen inmates out of Rikers

By Alison Fox

NEW YORK — Correction officers inside the Horizon Juvenile Center, which has been the scene of several violent interactions between the officers and the minors housed there, will be allowed to use pepper spray for a seven-day period, the officers’ union said on Wednesday.

The temporary waiver was granted after several large fights erupted at the Bronx facility after the Raise the Age legislation was implemented at the beginning of the month and all 16- and 17-year-old inmates were moved there from Rikers. At least two large fights had broken out since the move, injuring more than three dozen officers.

The union had blamed the correction officers’ inability to use pepper spray, which they can use at Rikers, as a reason fights had turned so violent.

“Correction officers at Horizon have been basically working with their hands tied behind their backs by not being able to use pepper spray to terminate inmate fights,” Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA) President Elias Husamudeen said in a statement. “Every day that goes by without the use of this invaluable tool increases the chances for correction officers to be seriously injured, if not killed by assaultive inmates at Horizon. We’re hopeful that this temporary waiver will be extended and made a permanent part of our equipment once it is clear that it has helped reduce assaults.”

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office said in an email that the use of pepper spray during this temporary period will only be allowed for specific minors “where all other methods of de-escalation have been exhausted and there is imminent threat of danger to youth or staff.” The city can reapply for permission to continue to use the pepper spray once the seven-day trial period is over.

The age of juvenile delinquency was raised to 17 throughout New York on Oct. 1. It will be raised again to 18 on Oct. 1, 2019, according to the governor’s office. Newly arrested 16-year-olds will be housed at the city’s other juvenile detention center, Crossroads, in Brooklyn, according to ACS, which operates the facilities.

Representatives for ACS and the Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In response to riots and assaults at the Department of Juvenile Justice, legislation was passed to increase staff salaries, enhance security, among other measures
The fight began when seven youths assaulted staff and broke an exterior door attached to their living area
To address staffing concerns, the county gave deputy probation officers a 12% raise and authorized bonuses to incentivize working in the juvenile hall
Juveniles currently housed at the country’s largest maximum-security adult prison will be moved to a youth detention facility by late fall