Corrections Union Sends Message About Solitary Confinement to Biden and City

Correctional officers say solitary confinement is neccessary. Photo by Dean Moses for amNY Sept. 21, 2021.

If President Biden turned on the limousine radio after touching down in New York City Thursday he might have heard the new Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA) advertisement asking residents to lobby their city council member to allow punitive segregation, also known as solitary confinement at Rikers Island.

The ad campaign playing on six radio stations and released on the same day of Biden’s visit features two unnamed female correctional officers who were assaulted by inmates. 

“I’m a correctional officer with eight years on the job [at Rikers]. While performing my duties an inmate strangled me and attempted to rape me and I was barely able to escape. Council members, what should happen to my assailant? He belongs in punitive segregation,” said one of the women officers.

COBA Spokesperson Michael Skelly said the ad was made in response to the letter sent by 29 city council members a little over a month ago to the then Mayor-elect Adams voicing their opposition to punitive segregation in the jails and in support of eliminating it. 

“Many of those signatories have never visited Rikers or spoken with the correctional officers unit,” said Skelly.

Skelly explained that punitive segregation is needed to separate violent inmates from non-violent inmates. These are people who have hurt people in jail and committed violent crimes while in jail. They have stabbed people, punched people, set fires and promoted contraband. They’re dangerous, he said.

“They [in segregation] still get the same food and water as everybody else. They get access to the recreation time, the Law Library, free telephone calls and yet the 29 council members subscribe to this belief that it is torture, and not the fact that it’s torture for the people being assaulted by these people,” said Skelly.

Skelly said that there have been 22 sexual assaults on corrections officers at the facility since January 2021. In particular, not allowing this confinement for inmates between the ages of 18-21 makes the facility more dangerous as studies have shown this to be among the most dangerous age groups in the prison, he said.

The Dec. 21 letter came in response to Mayor Adams saying he would reintroduce punitive segregation after he took office. The lead writer was City Council Member Tiffany Cabán of Queens.

When the letter was first made public, Adams criticized the city council members for their stance.

“I wore a bullet-proof vest for 22 years and protected the people of this city. And when you do that, you have the right to question me on safety and public safety matters. I know a little something about this. I’m going to protect my corrections officers. I’m going to protect the inmates that are serving time. And I’m not going to allow violent people to do violence and think they can do it without being held accountable,” Adams told reporters.