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Public Advocate Pushes City To Implement Solitary Law As Court Finds State Prisons In Violation Of Ban

June 21st, 2024Press Release

Yesterday, New York’s State Supreme Court found that years after the statewide HALT Solitary law, state prisons continue to violate its provisions and hold people in solitary confinement for extended periods. At the same time, New York City is moving forward in the process of implementing Local Law 42, legislation from Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams which mandates an enforceable ban on the prolonged isolation associated with solitary confinement in city jails. At a hearing of the Board of Corrections this week, Public Advocate Williams spoke of the need to fully, faithfully, and speedily implement the law.

“Many try to mask the practice of isolation with euphemistic names like punitive segregation, but there is not much difference–it is very often solitary confinement," said Public Advocate Williams. "Prolonged isolation that looks like, feels like, and acts like solitary confinement—is solitary confinement. Physical isolation coupled with the lack of meaningful social interaction causes or exacerbates trauma, as well as other mental health issues. The law as passed provides guidelines on how detainees should be separated, when necessary, in a way to make both those housed and working in NYC jails, just a bit safer.”

The state case charged that despite the ban on prolonged isolation, officials were finding ways to circumvent the law in practice. Similarly, on a city level, reports indicate that while solitary is banned in name, practices of harmful isolation have continued. The Public Advocate’s legislation closes these loopholes, while allowing for separation and de-escalation when necessary.

The Adams administration has repeatedly attempted to prevent this law from taking effect. The mayor vetoed the legislation in January and was overwhelmingly overridden by the City Council. Now, the administration wants the court to prevent the implementation of the law. 

After the administration signaled its intent to seek court intervention, the Public Advocate declared “The administration clearly has the resources to implement the law. Instead, they’re using those resources to try to continue the capability of prolonged isolation and preserve the status quo on Rikers.

Before the Board on Monday, the Public Advocate stressed the importance of fully implementing the law, saying that “It is imperative that the Board ensure compliance with this law as written, as the administration has made clear that they do not wish to comply with Local Law 42, and have asked Judge Swain to halt implementation. Instead of trying to delay and circumvent their legal obligations to continue this deeply harmful practice, this administration should act immediately to implement this law.”

Read his full statement to the Board of Correction below. 

STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY BOARD OF CORRECTION JUNE 18, 2024

Thank you so much, Good afternoon,

Peace and blessings, love and light to everyone. My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank the Chair and the Board of Correction for holding this meeting today, and for taking seriously the promulgation of rules related to implementing Local Law 42. I would also like to echo the Board’s request for adequate funding to fully staff their agency, as they will be an integral part of ensuring the implementation of the law. It is no small feat to reconcile the intentions of any new laws and the day to day practices of an agency like the Department of Corrections.  

I want to begin by calling solitary confinement what it is: torture. It is cruel. It is inhumane. It can ruin people’s lives, and too many do not survive it. I also want to make clear there’s been a lot of conversation about what that meant, and our law sought really to define what we see as solitary confinement which really focuses on the prolonged isolation of an individual. Many try to mask the practice of isolation with euphemistic names like punitive segregation, but there is not much difference–it is very often solitary confinement. Prolonged isolation that looks like, feels like, and acts like solitary confinement—is solitary confinement. Physical isolation coupled with the lack of meaningful social interaction causes or exacerbates trauma, as well as other mental health issues. The law as passed provides guidelines on how detainees should be separated, when necessary, in a way to make both those housed and working in NYC jails, just a bit safer.

People who experience isolation in jails and prisons suffer socially, mentally, emotionally, and financially, both while incarcerated and after release. No one leaves solitary confinement whole. They struggle with the lasting effects of trauma and are disproportionately more likely to die by suicide or homicide. They are also at increased risk for homelessness and substance use: a 2019 North Carolina study found that survivors of solitary confinement were 127 times more likely to die from an opioid overdose within two weeks of their release.

That is why we are here today discussing Local Law 42, which bans the harmful experience of prolonged isolation in New York City’s jails—a law the City Council passed with a supermajority, and then overrode a mayoral veto with an even higher majority, not to mention with widespread public and community support. It is imperative that the Board ensure compliance with this law as written, as the administration has made clear that they do not wish to comply with Local Law 42, and have asked Judge Swain to halt implementation. Instead of trying to delay and circumvent their legal obligations to continue this deeply harmful practice, this administration should act immediately to implement this law. And again, really focus on how to keep everyone safe, corrections officers, people who work in the jails, and particularly, the detainees who are under the care of the Department of Corrections. Thank you again for really taking this seriously. And I appreciate your time. 

Thank you.


NYC Public Advocate's Statement on Juneteenth

June 19th, 2024Press Release

“Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom for Black Americans. The last Enslaved people in Texas did not learn of this freedom until two years after it had been declared. While legally free, Black Americans today are still waiting for it to be in full view, even as many demand that gains be taken away. Black Americans are trying to hold on to ‘freedom’ and working to move toward true liberation.

"Liberation is freedom from oppressive policies. Freedom from fear. Freedom from violence in our streets and our systems. Liberation tears down systems of injustice propped up by the powerful who benefit from them and structures they uphold. We’ve worked so long for this holiday to be recognized at all, and we’ll continue to work for justice and equity.

"In the centuries since Juneteenth was first marked by news of emancipation we have marched forward, persevering through hardship and progressing toward true liberty and justice. On the memories of ancestors who survived the unthinkable, let us march on till victory is won."


Public Advocate Advances Bill To Support NYC Students, Staff With Disabilities

June 18th, 2024Press Release

Over 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted, New York City schools have lagged far behind the law in accessibility. With less than a third of public schools fully accessible for people with disabilities, Public Advocate Williams is advancing his bill to require transparency on the city’s ADA compliance in school facilities.  “Many students with disabilities are barred from attending their neighborhood schools because of inaccessible infrastructure,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams at a City Council hearing of the Committee on Education this afternoon. “This not only means that these students are unable to fully access their communities but that they must travel to an accessible school, which may mean hours on a bus every day, cutting into their  learning time. Students are also prohibited from participating in after-school programs, unless there is someone to provide transportation home after, because the school buses will not bring them home. This lack of accessibility also means that students’ family and community members with accessibility needs are unable to attend events and meetings at these schools.” The Public Advocate’s bill, Intro 399, would require the Department of Education to report annually on the degree to which school facilities comply with the ADA. It would also make it easier to contact each school’s ADA coordinator, and make clear and public the protocol for requesting an accommodation, as well as information on the ability of zoned schools to accommodate students and employees with disabilities. Currently, as the Public Advocate stated, “It has been more than thirty years since the ADA was signed into law, yet New Yorkers with disabilities are still barred from entering and attending many of our schools.” The public reporting required in this bill will provide key information to students, parents, and staff about individual schools and spotlight areas of urgent reform. The Public Advocate has often spoken about the challenges he faced in navigating the school system with Tourette Syndrome and ADHD. His experiences have informed his advocacy on disability justice issues throughout his time in office, including in releasing ‘Out of Service,’ a report on the MTA’s lack of accessibility infrastructure and the urgent need for investment. Speaking to the need for adequate funding of accessibility improvements amid ongoing citywide budget cuts, he argued that “Every year that we do not meaningfully prioritize making school buildings accessible is another year that students cannot attend the schools of their choice, or spend valuable instructional time traveling to a school that can accommodate them.” Read the Public Advocate’s full comments to the committee below. STATEMENT OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION JUNE 18, 2024 Good afternoon, My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. I would like to thank Chair Joseph and the members of the Committee on Education for holding this important hearing. In August of last year, Advocates for Children of New York found that only 31.1 percent of NYC schools are fully accessible for people with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that governments ensure people with disabilities have equal access to public programs and services, including public education. However, many students with disabilities are barred from attending their neighborhood schools because of inaccessible infrastructure. This not only means that these students are unable to fully access their communities but that they must travel to an accessible school, which may mean hours on a bus every day, cutting into their learning time. Students are also prohibited from participating in after-school programs, unless there is someone to provide transportation home after, because the school buses will not bring them home. This lack of accessibility also means that students’ family and community members with accessibility needs are unable to attend events and meetings at these schools.  Advocates for Children has called for $1.25 billion to be allocated for improving school accessibility to bring another 150 to 200 school buildings to full accessibility by 2029.  However, in the proposed FY25 budget, the School Construction Authority has only designated $800 million for improving accessibility. Every year that we do not meaningfully prioritize making school buildings accessible is another year that students cannot attend the schools of their choice, or spend valuable instructional time traveling to a school that can accommodate them.  Today, we are hearing my bill, Intro 399, which would require the Department of Education to report annually on the degree to which indoor and outdoor school facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, this bill would make public the contact information for each school’s ADA coordinator, the protocol for requesting an accommodation, and information regarding the extent to which zoned schools have the capacity to accommodate students and employees with disabilities. It has been more than thirty years since the ADA was signed into law, yet New Yorkers with disabilities are still barred from entering and attending many of our schools.  Thank you.


NYC PUBLIC ADVOCATE'S STATEMENT ON FINAL VOTE BY RENT GUIDELINES BOARD

June 17th, 2024Press Release

"It’s shocking the difference and damage one administration can do to our city’s affordable housing crisis. The current administration has professed to care about affordability, but we continue to see the largest proposed rent increases in decades fueled specifically by the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) members appointed by this Mayor.  “Tonight’s vote by the RGB is a failure that will lead to an unsustainable burden on tenants across the city while also not providing the relief some owners need. With rents at historic highs and vacancy rates at historic lows, we cannot continue to try and squeeze more money out of tenants who simply cannot afford it. Doing so will only exacerbate our homelessness crisis while driving New Yorkers out of their homes. While it is true some property owners, particularly smaller scale owners, are facing financial challenges, the city and state must bolster efforts to improve access to programs that provide them with support without adding undue burdens on all tenants across the city. “It’s clear by tonight’s vote that the Board did not listen to the countless tenants who made their voices heard during the RGB’s citywide hearings leading up to this vote. The city and state must now work diligently to address the housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic–  by building and preserving housing at a rapid rate– and the Mayor must begin to prioritize tenants by implementing bold, creative solutions that help them and all who are fighting to afford a city that is rapidly becoming unaffordable."


NYC Public Advocate Highlights City Shelter Policies That Harm Homeless Families In Council Hearing

June 11th, 2024Press Release

The ongoing housing and homelessness crisis that has pervaded city shelters and streets has an outsized impact on New York’s families. As of March, 69% of people in shelters were members of homeless families, including nearly 50,000 children. At a hearing of the Committee on General Welfare, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams uplifted the challenges and harm created for families by onerous shelter policies, and said of the situation “It’s hard to see how we are viewing this as a success.”

“It is our moral and legal duty to provide shelter to those experiencing homelessness, and we should all prioritize creating permanent, affordable, accessible housing for everyone who needs it,” argued Public Advocate Williams. “The current time limits set by this administration violate the spirit of our city’s long-standing right to shelter… While the administration says that the 30- and 60-day shelter limits for migrants have contributed to a cost reduction, the consequences of that decision do not outweigh the benefits: children displaced from their schools and communities just when they are settling into normalcy, people lined up overnight on the streets in freezing temperatures, anxiety, confusion.”

Public Advocate Williams also spoke out about the barriers presented by city policy requiring an entire family seeking shelter to travel to the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) Center in the Bronx, lamenting that “This means that children will likely not be able to attend school that day, instead spending their day in transit and in waiting rooms. Families often wait hours for their appointments, and they are not allowed to bring in outside food. Many families receive a temporary overnight placement and must return the next day in the hopes of being placed in a longer-term shelter. Some families are deemed ineligible for shelter and must start the process over again.”

Council Member Diana Ayala, Chair of the Committee, sponsors legislation to address this issue by “precluding the department of homeless services from requiring a child's presence at an intake center when a family with children applies for shelter.” The bill was heard at today’s hearing.

The Public Advocate’s full statement to the committee is below.

TESTIMONY OF PUBLIC ADVOCATE JUMAANE D. WILLIAMS TO THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL COMMITTEE ON GENERAL WELFARE JUNE 11, 2024

Good afternoon, 

My name is Jumaane D. Williams, and I am the Public Advocate for the City of New York. Thank you to Deputy Speaker Ayala and the members of the Committee on General Welfare for holding this hearing.

In March 2024, 69 percent of those in shelters were members of homeless families, including 48,304 children. There are families experiencing homelessness, for a variety of reasons, in every neighborhood and community in our city—they are our neighbors, friends, classmates, colleagues, students, and loved ones. It is our moral and legal duty to provide shelter to those experiencing homelessness, and we should all prioritize creating permanent, affordable, accessible housing for everyone who needs it.

The current time limits set by this administration violate the spirit of our city’s long-standing right to shelter. Our city cannot bear the cost of housing and providing services to our newest New Yorkers alone, but evicting them—including families with children—from shelters is not the solution, particularly when there is no real casework for many of these families and without timely communication. While the administration says that the 30- and 60-day shelter limits for migrants have contributed to a cost reduction, the consequences of that decision do not outweigh the benefits: children displaced from their schools and communities just when they are settling into normalcy, people lined up overnight on the streets in freezing temperatures, anxiety, confusion. It is particularly unacceptable. I also want to mention that the administration which prides itself on diversity, to have this new policy affect primarily Black migrants is particularly disturbing. 

In October of last year, Mayor Adams announced that the 60-day shelter limit would be extended to migrant families with children, who represent about 75 percent of the migrant shelter population. In the time since, thousands of families have been given notice or evicted. This policy has been catastrophic for these families, and especially the children. Nearly one in five migrant children evicted from their shelters had their schooling interrupted, with two-thirds of those students no longer enrolled in a New York City public school at all. In addition, many migrant children who have moved far from their schools are now spending large portions of their days on transportation, if their buses arrive at all. For children who have already experienced massive disruptions in their lives—leaving their countries and coming to a new city, on top of trauma they may have endured—this is particularly devastating. Students become attached to their schools, teachers, and classmates, and interrupting that consistency is stressful and potentially re-traumatizing. 

The process for seeking shelter for families, even for non-migrant families, is onerous, with multiple hoops that families must jump through. The entire family, including minor children, must travel to the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) Center in the Bronx. This is the only office at which a family can apply for temporary housing. This means that children will likely not be able to attend school that day, instead spending their day in transit and in waiting rooms. Families often wait hours for their appointments, and they are not allowed to bring in outside food. Many families receive a temporary overnight placement and must return the next day in the hopes of being placed in a longer-term shelter. Some families are deemed ineligible for shelter and must start the process over again. While families can receive a temporary, conditional placement while they reapply, they do not become eligible for DHS-specific rental vouchers until they have a formal placement.

For all, but especially children, experiencing homelessness is stressful and traumatic. Many children enter shelter after fleeing abusive or violent environments—domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness in New York City. In April, Mayor Adams announced a pilot program, called “Project Home,” to connect domestic violence survivors with permanent housing. Beginning with 100 families with children, those staying in HRA domestic violence shelters will be eligible for HPD affordable housing, which was previously limited to those in DHS shelters. I applaud the mayor for this effort and I hope to see more like it in the future. And we also want to make sure that we’re clear with this policy affecting primarily Black migrants. We’re also not keeping track of where they’re going, we’ve seen overcrowding in places like mosques and other spaces. They are trying their best to fill the gap, so it's hard for us to see how we are viewing this as a success.

Thank you.

 


After Aggressive Enforcement Against Fruit Vending Family, NYC Public Advocate Introduces Transparency Bill

June 6th, 2024Press Release

NEW YORK: Days after a young girl was aggressively accosted by law enforcement while selling fruit with her mother in Battery Park, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams introduced legislation requiring the city to report key information on street vendor enforcement actions. This bill would provide vital transparency and help ensure that procedures are followed, priorities are clear, and abuses are prevented.

 “This week, we all witnessed the dangerous consequences of criminalization, of responding to every issue with law enforcement. A young girl and her mother were confronted and brutalized while simply trying to earn a living for their family,” said Public Advocate Williams in introducing the bill. “By providing transparency into the process and practice of street vendor enforcement, in conjunction with comprehensive reform, we can help curb the criminalization of New York City’s smallest businesses and lead with information and engagement, not aggressive, unnecessary enforcement tactics.”

Intro 947, proposed at today’s Stated Meeting of the City Council, would require quarterly reporting on a wide range of information related to street vendor enforcement, including:

  • The location and date of the interaction
  • Whether the enforcement interaction was initiated due to complaints
  • Whether the vendor was arrested or issued a civil or criminal summons
  • Whether the vendor’s items were seized, and what items were being sold
  • What documentation was requested of the vendor
  • Whether there had been prior enforcement interactions with the same street vendor
  • Whether a language interpreter was provided during the interaction.

The legislation follows a 2021 law establishing an unit for street vendor enforcement, originally a part of the Department of Consumer and Workforce Protection before the Adams administration moved the unit to the Department of Sanitation. That enforcement is intended to be focused on areas with a high volume of complaints, high congestion, or close proximity to produce retailers.

Street vendor enforcement practices have frequently been scrutinized for aggressive interactions with the public, which spurred the legislation to establish a separate enforcement unit for the industry other than the NYPD. However, the NYPD continues to be involved in enforcement, as seen in the recent video of the Battery Park confrontation. 

The new bill also supplements a package of bills originally introduced at the end of 2023 to support street vendors, including legislation from the Public Advocate which would create a division of Street Vendor Assistance within the Department of Small Business Services. The package also includes bills to promote business licensing and regulatory compliance of all mobile food and merchandise, reduce the criminal liability on food and merchandise vending, and establish siting rules and regulations for licensed and permitted vendors. 

Street vending in New York has always been significant in the city’s economy. Nearly 20,000 individuals are employed as street vendors to date. Street vending has played an important role in the city's growth, supporting immigrants, people of color, and military veterans to successfully operate the city’s smallest businesses, while creating entrepreneurs along the way. 

Under the current system, thousands of vendors have been waitlisted for food vendor permits, with some of them waiting for decades. As was seen in Battery Park last weekend, the city’s approach to vendors leaves many individuals harassed, unfairly arrested, and without adequate resources or clear regulations.


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