Back to All Press Release

NYCLU Sues NY Jail Watchdog for Withholding Records on Jail Staff Violence Against Incarcerated People 

NEW YORK – Today, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the New York State Commission of Correction (SCOC), the chief watchdog and regulator of jails in New York State. The lawsuit argues that SCOC is unlawfully withholding information related to whether and how it responds to reports of physical and sexual assault perpetrated by jail staff against individuals incarcerated at county jails statewide.

“SCOC is required to investigate reports of staff violence against people behind bars in jails across New York. Yet the agency’s pattern of secrecy leaves New Yorkers largely in the dark about what, if anything, results from those reports,” said Antony Gemmell, Director of Detention Litigation at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The records the NYCLU seeks are—or should be—an essential part of SCOC’s oversight process. If SCOC continues to shield them from public scrutiny, SCOC will remain unaccountable for its obligation to address violent staff misconduct in New York jails.”

On July 6, 2022, the NYCLU submitted a Freedom of Information Law request (FOIL) seeking records concerning SCOC’s handling of incident reports received from both county jails and the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). To date, following the NYCLU’s administrative appeal, SCOC has released just a narrow sliver of the records it maintains in response to the NYCLU’s request. In addition, the number of incidents in SCOC’s 2022 annual report is greater than the number of incidents that the NYCLU received following its administrative appeal. This discrepancy suggests the commission is hiding basic incident reports for each responsive incident report despite having those records in their custody. With this lawsuit, the NYCLU seeks to shed further light on the thoroughness of the commission’s investigations into staff misconduct.

State law requires that county jails report abuses by correctional officers against people in their custody to SCOC and that the agency investigate them. However, according to SCOC’s 2022 annual report, it takes an average of only 8 days for the agency to close each incident report it receives, raising questions about the legitimacy of the commission’s investigatory process.

According to reporting from NY Focus, sheriff’s offices, which run county jails, often dismiss or suppress incarcerated people’s formal grievances, while SCOC only evaluates jails’ grievance processes every few years and rarely sanctions jails that violate state regulations. According to minutes from its last meeting last November 2023, the Citizens’ Policy and Complaint Review Council, a sub-group of SCOC, decided 304 grievance cases in 40 minutes — averaging less than eight seconds per case. It unanimously denied 293 of those cases.

NYCLU staff on the case include attorney Antony Gemmell, NYU Public Interest Law Center Fellow Kathryn Sachs, and paralegal Angelica Ceballos.

You can find case materials here:

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union