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Mayor Visits Rikers Island Jail Complex

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Mayor Bill de Blasio made his first visit to Rikers Island on Wednesday in the wake of reports of the overuse of force by correction officers and an uptick in violence. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

The last time Mayor Bill de Blasio was on Rikers Island, Ed Koch was the one occupying City Hall.

Decades later, the direction of the island with nine active jails and some 11,000 inmates now rests with him.

"I wanted to come and see for myself how we are doing and what we have to keep doing to build on the success," the mayor said. "We know the history. It is a very troubling history."

De Blasio made his first visit to the sprawling jail complex on Wednesday, a complex that has seen an increase in violence and was the subject of a federal investigation by the U.S. attorney.

"A broken institution will produce broken people," Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the southern district, said in August.

"The results of policies and choices and realities that went on for decades," de Blasio said.

Broken, so said the U.S. attorney, because of a pervasive culture of violence, specifically at a juvenile facility where teens were too often subjected to punitive segregation, commonly thought of as solitary confinement. That means an inmate must stay in a cell for 23 hours a day.

De Blasio said that era is now over. As of this month, 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer be held in solitary.

"I could see immediately just in my interactions with these young people that there was hope," de Blasio said.

"What they do now, and what most juvenile systems across the country have done, is really manage the behavior without using punishment," said Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte.

The city may be ending solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds, but it's continuing it for adults, something correction officials say is about security.

"Let it be clear. If we don't have safe jails, no programming works," Ponte said.

Adult inmates will not be serving as much time in solitary. One infraction will now mean 30 days in segregation. It used to be 90.

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