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NYC to pay $6.5M in fees to lawyers for Rikers Island inmates

The eastern section of Rikers Island jail complex

The eastern section of Rikers Island jail complex in Queens on June 11, 2014. Credit: AP / Bebeto Matthews

New York City has agreed to pay $6.5 million in attorney fees to lawyers for Rikers Island inmates as part of a proposed settlement calling for sweeping reforms designed to stem violence and abuse at the city jail, according to a copy of the proposed settlement filed in federal court Wednesday.

The money will be split among three firms -- the Legal Aid Society's Prisoner Rights Project, and the private law firms Ropes & Gray and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.

A Ropes & Gray spokesman said that firm's fees would be used to pay expenses from the Rikers case, and to fund additional pro bono, prison reform and public interest efforts. The Legal Aid Society and lawyers from Emery Celli could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit against the city that led to the settlement was filed in 2011, and last year the Justice Department added clout to the effort by issuing a scathing report on abuses of young inmates and joining the lawsuit and settlement negotiations.

The attorney fees agreement was disclosed in filings with Manhattan U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who must sign off on the fairness of the class settlement.

The deal calls for better training and tighter controls over use of force, the installation of thousands of cameras at Rikers, special protections for juveniles and a court-appointed monitor to oversee implementation of the agreement.

Wednesday's filings also indicated that financial settlements have been reached on damages claims for alleged abuses suffered by 11 inmates who were named in the original lawsuit, but the amount of the settlements was not revealed.

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