Back to All Press Release

Proposed Changes To City Jail Standards Would Endanger Prisoners And Tread On Rights, NYCLU Testifies

Proposed changes to the standards governing New York City jails would damage civil liberties and public safety and would punish mostly pre-trial prisoners who have not been convicted of or pled guilty to any crime, the New York Civil Liberties Union today argued in testimony before the New York City Board of Corrections.

“By abandoning the requirement of a court order to open mail or monitor phone calls, the Board of Corrections’ proposed changes would dramatically expand surveillance of private communications of those in detention,” said NYCLU Staff Attorney Corey Stoughton, who delivered the testimony. “Because prison officials readily can obtain a warrant when prisoner communications present a genuine security threat, these changes mark an unnecessary intrusion into the privacy rights of prisoners who have not been convicted of any crime.”

The changes, the NYCLU argued, would:

  • Authorize warrantless surveillance of telephone calls and mail.
    The new rules would permit jail officials to record and listen to phone calls for any reason and would lower the standard for reading and opening mail and packages. The new standards would not, in some instances, provide for notifying prisoners that they were subject to surveillance. The new standards also lack crucial protections for privileged correspondence with physicians, clergy, and possibly attorneys.

  • Grant jail officials the authority to limit prisoners’ ability to send and receive correspondence.
    The amendments would permit jail officials to deny prisoners the ability to send and receive mail and packages, potentially depriving prisoners of the ability to communicate with the outside world, including friends and family, attorneys, clergy, and advocacy and regulatory bodies that police prison conditions.

  • Increase jail officials’ power to censor publications received by prisoners.
    The proposals would authorize the Department to censor any publication that it determines “may compromise the safety and security of the facility.” This standard, the NYCLU argues, is excessively vague and susceptible to overbroad interpretation; prison officials could use it to ban publications criticizing the correctional facility or system.

  • Loosen the requirement to provide Spanish-language interpreters.
    The changes would eliminate the requirement that jails have sufficient Spanish-speaking staff to assist prisoners, and make the requirements for ensuring that non-English speakers understand rules and orders more “flexible” by eliminating specific directions as to how to ensure that this goal has been met.

The changes would also increase crowding in prison rooms without increasing prison staffing to ensure safety; expand 23-hour cell lock-ins to detainees in protective custody; and deny prisoners contact visits with their families and friends during the first 24 hours of their jail stays.

“For the Board of Corrections to proceed down this path would do a fundamental disservice to prisoners and their families and would make all New Yorkers both less safe and less free,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director.

The NYCLU recommended that the Board of Corrections withdraw the proposed amendments and conduct a full and fair deliberative process that considers civil liberties and public safety concerns before proposing any changes to the minimum standards for New York City jails.

In addition to testifying at the hearing (which began at 9:30 a.m. this morning at 22 Reade St., 1st floor), the NYCLU’s Stoughton will appear at a press conference with the Innocence Project, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Legal Aid Society (which will take place during the hearing’s lunch break, around 12:30, at the offices of the Legal Aid Society, 49 Thomas St., 1st floor).

Click here to read the NYCLU’s testimony (PDF).

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