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Rikers solitary for juveniles to be phased out by year's end

A Rikers Island juvenile detention facility officer walks

A Rikers Island juvenile detention facility officer walks down a hallway of the jail, Thursday, July 31, 2014. Credit: AP / Julie Jacobson

The city will replace solitary confinement with "more effective and more humane" forms of punishment for 16- and 17-year-old inmates at its Rikers Island jail complex, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday.

The goal is to eliminate the use of punitive segregation by year's end, according to the Department of Correction.

De Blasio said he and Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte believe the status quo at Rikers Island is unacceptable.

The facility was the subject of a scathing report by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that found violent mistreatment of adolescent inmates.

Adding to the pressure to reform Rikers Island operations, an administrative law judge Monday recommended the firing of six officers who she determined beat a mentally ill inmate, Robert Hinton, 27, a gang member convicted of attempted murder, as they moved him into solitary confinement in 2012.

The planned ban "is an indication immediately of the fact that we're trying to treat the youngest inmates differently," de Blasio said at an unrelated news conference in the Bronx.

The mayor cited his administration's steps to improve treatment for mentally ill inmates. Last week, he said he seeks to change laws that now prevent the city from filling Department of Correction management positions from outside existing uniformed ranks.

Representatives for the mayor's office and the correction department Monday referred to a memo dated Sept. 25 from Ponte to de Blasio.

The correction department would create a "screening tool to identify staff best suited" to work with adolescent inmates and a "training curriculum" on youth brain development, crisis prevention, and management and trauma care, among other reforms, according to the memo.

The memo does not cite examples of alternatives to solitary confinement, but says the department plans to use intermediate consequences for misbehavior, ways of preventing misbehavior from occurring in the first place and a yet-to-be-developed inmate disciplinary code specifically for adolescent inmates.

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