This testimony is presented on behalf of the Community Service Society of New York (“CSS”), a nonprofit organization serving low-income New Yorkers for over 173 years. I am Kimberly Westcott, Associate Counsel for CSS, where I focus on re-entry issues. Because the reintegration process begins in prison, we support programming and processes that improve prospects for employment and promote effective reentry into the community. CSS has long worked to raise the floor for all New Yorkers. This goal is particularly urgent with respect to those damaged and marginalized by encounters with enforcement and the criminal justice system, and, since 2008, our Legal Department has addressed employment and other barriers faced by people with criminal records. Through our Next Door Project, we train and supervise a cadre of retired senior citizen volunteers to help individuals obtain, understand, and fix mistakes on their criminal records, reaching over 600 clients annually. Since 2007, our monthly NY Reentry Roundtable has been an education and advocacy hub for the formerly incarcerated, allies, and practitioners in the criminal justice arena. Additionally, we litigate individual and class action cases, help people obtain certificates that demonstrate rehabilitation, advocate for policy changes on the state and local level, and were instrumental in drafting and enacting the Fair Chance Act.
With this background, CSS welcomes this opportunity to voice our strong opposition to the proposed revisions to the Board of Correction's ("Board") Minimum Standards for New York City Correctional facilities that weaken the limitations on the use of punitive segregation that were just enacted in January of this year, as well as those that would change visiting and packages standards. We believe that these proposed changes would degrade the dignity and health of persons detained at New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) facilities, and simultaneously alienate and humiliate visiting family members attempting to preserve contacts with their loved ones – contacts that will be essential when the detained individuals return home. In no uncertain terms: the safety of DOC staff is critically important. But the proposed regulations are counterproductive to achieving DOC's legitimate security objectives and could well result in increasing the rate of violence at DOC facilities rather than decreasing it.