May 8, 2016

To the New York City Board of Correction:
We write regarding the implementation of harm reduction policies that would sufficiently address the
current crisis of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment occurring on Rikers Island and other New
York City jails.1 Currently, there are no rules within the Jail Minimum Standards that protect
incarcerated individuals from sexual victimization while in Department of Correction (DOC)
custody2 or persons who come forward to report incidents of abuse from being retaliated against.3
In April 2015, Public Advocate Letitia James petitioned the Board to commence a rule-making
process intended to safeguard people incarcerated in City jails from sexual abuse and harassment.4
Over a year has passed, and the Board has yet to exercise its authority over the DOC to address a
crisis affecting thousands of New Yorkers. It is especially concerning that the Public Advocate’s
proposal was shelved by the Board nearly 45 days before beginning rule-making on a broad proposal
submitted by Commissioner Joseph Ponte. In its original form, the latter proposal sought to increase
harmful punitive segregation practices and further criminalize poor, Black and Brown families.
Commissioner Ponte’s proposed rule changes held the Board’s attention from May 2015 through
January 2016, when a narrower version was finally issued.
This work was done in lieu of attending to the urgent health and safety needs of people in DOC
custody, particularly individuals within vulnerable populations at high-risk of being targeted for
sexual victimization.5 Public Advocate James’ petition proposes changes to DOC protocol,
procedure, and oversight in order to curb the rampant sexual violence plaguing Rikers Island and
other NYC jails.6, 7 Moreover, the petition allows for expedient implementation as the proposed rules
closely resemble regulations set forth in the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, including:
limits on cross-gender viewing and contact; supervision and video monitoring requirements; staff
training, hiring, and promotion practices; assistance for detained individuals making allegations;
improved intake and screening procedures; improved reporting and monitoring; and specific
measures to protect women and adolescent girls as well as transgender and intersex persons.8
In response to the Public Advocate’s petition, the Board voted to begin rule-making regarding rape
and sexual abuse in City jails in June 2015. Six months later, the Board announced that its drafted
rules would be published on February 8, 2016. At that time, the Board then reported draft regulations
would be issued by May 10, 2016. However, as of May 6 of 2016, it has been revealed that the
Board’s draft rules will not be published on the promised date nor has an alternate release date been
Over the past year, news accounts reveal visitors to Rikers Island being sexually violated by
correctional staff9 and at least one rape of a detained woman involving multiple correction officers on
an inbound DOC bus to Rikers.10 Such reports in the media—as well as lawsuits filed in the second
circuit—belie an ongoing and spiraling crisis in NYC jails.11, 12 At a public City Council hearing held
in December 2015, the DOC’s chief investigator could not provide data regarding instances of rape
and sexual abuse that had been reported, investigated, and substantiated or unsubstantiated.
Additionally, the Warden of the women’s jail on Rikers (Rose M. Singer Center [RMSC]) alleged a
recent increase in complaints of staff sexual misconduct toward detainees, associating the uptick in
numbers with “mentally challenged” detainees.13

Individuals detained in jails that are most frequently targeted for sexual victimization fall into
demographic groups already marginalized by society14 based on race, gender, income-level, and
mental health and disability15 status.16, 17, 18 Moreover, many survivors of rape and sexual abuse have
histories of complex traumas,19 increasing their susceptibility to engaging in behaviors deemed
criminal and likelihood of arrest and incarceration.20 Women detained in national jails report rates of
past abuse three times more than men. More specifically, detained women disclosed incidents of
previous sexual abuse occurring almost seven times more frequently than men and past physical
abuse three times more. Women detainees also report being raped throughout the life course at
significantly higher levels than their male counterparts (33.1% vs. 3.9%). Additionally, women in
jails abused as children report experiencing adulthood revictimization at strikingly higher rates than
men in jails (15.8% vs. 1.3%).21 A lion’s share of survivors of sexual violence lack the coping skills
needed to survive in jail, often times resulting in their incurring penalties (i.e., placement in solitary
confinement) for problematic behaviors and other manifestations of trauma.22 Many survivors
detained on charges associated with sex work are targeted for sexual victimization due to stigma and
the perceived loss of control over their bodies.
The following organizations and individuals believe that people incarcerated in City jails deserve
protection from rape and other forms of staff sexual abuse and harassment. We urge the Board to
begin rule-making to include in the Jail Minimum Standards safeguards from sexual victimization for
all incarcerated individuals. In this process, we strongly encourage the Board to specifically consider
the health and safety needs of vulnerable populations highlighted in this letter—women, people
experiencing mental health issues, transgender23 and other gender non-conforming individuals,24
people with developmental and intellectual disabilities—among others.
The Board must not continue to delay rule-making to address the current crisis of rape, sexual abuse,
and sexual harassment occurring on Rikers Island and in other City jails. The Board should release its
rule for public comment and press forward with adopting strong regulations to protect incarcerated
people from all forms of sexual abuse and other violence while attending to specific needs of
vulnerable populations. These New Yorkers urgently need our assistance, and we look forward to
addressing their needs by crafting considerations and specific requirements to provide for a structure
of safety and harm prevention in our City jails.

To sign-on, email JAC your individual and/or organization name to OR submit your information via our social
media accounts.
[Organization/Individual name]


Women detainees on Rikers Island report rates of current sexual victimization at more than twice the national average of jails (8.6% vs. 3.2%).
Incidents categorized as “staff sexual misconduct” made up most reports of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment on Rikers. Of the total detainees
interviewed, 43.7% received a mental health diagnosis consistent with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5, 2013).
Women detained at the Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC) on Rikers with mental health issues report staff sexual misconduct five times more than their
counterparts held at other national jails (5.0% vs. 1.0%). Beck, A.J., Berzofsky, M., Caspar, R., & Krebs, C. (2013). Sexual victimization in prisons and
jails reported by inmates, 2011-12, National Inmate Survey, 2011-12 (NCJ 241399). Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics svpjri1112.pdf
Federal standards to protect against sexual victimization currently exist under the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) and apply to city jails.
However, when states certify to the federal government that they are in “compliance” with PREA in order to retain federal funding, they do not need to
include information about local jail compliance. This loophole has made PREA standards difficult to enforce in city jails.
As pointed out in the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project’s (LAS PRP) letter to the Board (2015), “…jail detainees are more likely to be
reluctant to complain if they feel complicit in the current sexual abuse. For example, a prisoner may have engaged in sexual conduct with an officer in
exchange for protection, or some other quid pro quo. She may feel ashamed or embarrassed about her participation. A prisoner has no practical way of
saying “no” in the coercive prison environment, potentially recreating her vulnerability as a child who experienced abuse. Whatever her initial response
to the abuse, she has no way of stopping it: she is an abuse victim with no way out of the relationship, with no safe haven to retreat to.” Legal Society
Prisoners’ Rights Project (2015, May 11). Letter to members of the New York City Board of Correction Re: Public Advocate’s petition for rulemaking.
Retrieved from
PA James Petitions Board of Correction to Enact Rules to Protect Inmates from Sexual Victimization on Rikers Island.
Of 544 substantiated cases of staff sexual misconduct and sexual harassment, the sexual relationship between detainee and staff member “appeared to
be willing” in 57% of incidents. More than half were reported by someone other (i.e., survivor, another detainee) than the accused staff member. Many
incidents (62%) occurred outside of detainee living areas and most frequently (74%) between the hours of 6:00 PM and midnight. in 18% of
substantiated incidents, staff were found to have victimized multiple detained individuals. Men were more frequently implicated in national jails (79%)
and women most likely to be their victims (80%). Almost all (98%) involved staff members were correction officers rather than civilian employees.
After incidents were reported, nearly half of survivors were transferred to another jail or housing unit and 19% were placed in isolation (i.e., protective
custody, administrative segregation). Over three-quarters of survivors received no medical follow up, counseling, or mental health treatment. Beck,
A.B., Harrison, P.M., & Adams, D.B. (2007). Sexual violence reported by correctional authorities, 2006 (NCJ 218914). Retrieved from Bureau of
Justice Statistics
Rikers’ jail for women (Rose M. Singer Center [RMSC]) has a higher than usual number of rape and sexual abuse allegations. Nationwide survey
results for jails showed that RMSC was one of only nine jails in the country that the Department of Justice (DOJ) labeled as “facilities with high rates of
inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization.” RMSC and Otis Bantum Correctional Center (OBCC)—a male jail on Rikers Island—both make the list of the
twelve national jails with “high rates of staff sexual misconduct” nationwide. Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates, 2011-12.
(, p. 12 - 13)
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report details that DOC staff is alleged to have abused inmates at an alarming rate. Of the total sexual abuse
complaints reported to health providers by inmates in recent years, the majority of complaints were made against DOC staff.
(, p. 9)
Rikers Island visitor sues city, says officer groped her and made her strip, New York Daily News (
Rikers Island correction officer raped female inmate on bus, invited fellow guard to watch, New York Daily News (
Rikers Island guard at women’s jail raped inmates, New York Daily News (
Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 v. City of New York and Benny Santiago
New York City Council Hearing on Women at Rikers, December 15, 2015. (
Women in the Criminal Justice System, Briefing Sheets, The Sentencing Project, p. 3. (
People with disabilities experience higher rates of victimization, including sexual victimization, than people without disabilities. Similarly, people
with multiple disabilities are even more likely to be victimized. Consequently, PREA standards require correction agencies to screen for disabilities and
consider disabilities as a factor contributing to risk of victimization. Presently New York City Department of Correction and Health and Hospitals do not
adequately screen for disabilities, particularly developmental and intellectual disabilities, thereby leaving these individuals at risk for victimization.
Harrell, S., Hastings, A., & diZerega, M. (2015). Making PREA and victim services accessible for incarcerated people with disabilities: An
implementation guide for practitioners on the adult and juvenile standards. Retrieved from PREA Resource Center
Between 2000 and 2011, the United States has seen a 31% increase in women behind bars. Women have unique risk factors for incarceration,
including elevated rates of lifetime trauma exposure (i.e., physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse) and mental health issues. Over half of women
detained in jails report receiving treatment for mental health or substance use issues within the preceding 12 months to current incarceration, and 25%
reported serious functional impairment. Forty-three percent met criteria for lifetime serious mental illness (SMI) and over half met lifetime criteria for
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. More than 80% of detained women met lifetime criteria for a Substance Use Disorder. Additionally, women detainees
meeting criteria for lifetime SMI reportedly experienced higher rates of childhood physical abuse, childhood sexual abuse, witnessed violence as
children, adulthood interpersonal violence, and adulthood sexual assaults. Lynch, S.M., DeHart, D.D., Belknap, J., & Green, B.I. (2013). Women’s
pathways to jail: Examining mental health, trauma, and substance use (NCJ 241045). Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Assistance Jail.pdf
Public perception of violence and mental illness erroneously fuses the two, leading to stigma and unwarranted, criminalizing policies. However,
existing literature indicates high rates of victimization within mental health populations. In a study of psychiatric inpatients, 63% reported living with a
partner and experiencing interpersonal violence in the previous year, and 46% reported living with family members that were physically abusive toward
them. Persons with mental health issues who also have a history of being victimized and bullied are more likely to retaliate when provoked: Seventyfive percent of psychiatric inpatients in aforementioned study reported retaliating in self-defense, as did 59% of those reportedly abused by family
members. Stuart, H. (2003). Violence and mental illness: An overview. World Psychiatry, 2, 121 - 124. Retrieved from
Nearly 16% of people incarcerated in national jails report experiencing mental health issues prior to incarceration. Over 40% report receiving some
type of mental health treatment (i.e., psychotropic medication, counseling, therapy) after admission to current facility. Detainees experiencing mental

health issues are twice as likely to have lived in foster home, agency, or other institution during childhood. Incarcerated individuals with mental health
issues report past incidents of abuse almost three times more than their counterparts, with reporting differences among women and men populations
(72.9% vs. 30.7%). They are also three times more likely to report previous experiences of physical abuse and almost five times more likely to report
past incidents of sexual abuse. Ditton, P.M. (1999). Mental health and treatment of inmates and probationers (NCJ 174463). Retrieved from Bureau of
Justice Statistics mhtip.pdf
The extant literature indicates that episodes of childhood trauma have significant impacts on a person’s interpersonal development and affect
regulation processes. Negative long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse (CSA) include development of maladaptive coping strategies (i.e., emotional
avoidance) so as to avoid distress of negative emotional states during and associated with trauma episodes. High levels of emotional avoidance are
linked to subsequent difficulties with recognizing danger cues throughout the life course. Survivors of CSA tend to “associate sexuality with pain,
punishment, and other negative outcomes” and thus, coercion and trauma become learned, normative sexual patterns. Studies point to a significant
relationship between CSA and adulthood sexual revictimization: CSA can increase the likelihood of sexual revictimization between 2 and 13.7 times.
Women survivors of CSA are twice more likely to report experiencing interpersonal violence in adult relationships. In a study of incarcerated women,
over half reported experiencing CSA, 37% of which also reported surviving adulthood rape. Additionally, incarcerated women survivors of both CSA
and rape have been found to manifest high levels of emotion dysregulation and difficulties with goal-directed behavior over the life course. National
Sexual Violence Resource Center. (2012). Sexual revictimization: Research brief. Retrieved from _ResearchBrief_Sexual-Revictimization.pdf
In Harm’s Way, The Intercept. (
History of Abuse, Harlow, C.W. (1999). Prior abuse reported by inmates and probationers (NCJ 172879). Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics
How Solitary Confinement Destroys Women, The Daily Beast. (
Mik Kinkead of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) reports that “the vast majority of transgender people are not given the dignity of choice as to
what housing units are safest for them. Almost all transgender women are in men’s prisons, transgender men in women’s prisons, and gender nonconforming people housed according to the sex assigned to them at birth” (SRLP, 2016). Kinkead, M. (2016, April, 6). Leaving trans women out of the
women and criminal justice system convening [Web log post]. Retrieved from
Almost 23% of transgender persons detained in national jails report experiencing sexual victimization at the hands of facility staff (“staff sexual
misconduct”). Of these reported incidents, detainees perceived 74.8% as unwanted, 51.1% involved staff use of force or staff threat of force, and 66.1%
were precipitated by staff pressure to engage in sexual activity. More than 40% of transgender survivors report having been physically injured by staff
sexual perpetrators. Beck, A.J. (2014). Sexual victimization in prisons and jails reported by inmates, 2011-12, Supplemental tables: Prevalence of
sexual victimization among transgender adult inmates (NCJ 241399). Retrieved from Bureau of Justice Statistics