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"It Makes Me Want to Cry" Visiting Rikers Island

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‘It Makes Me Want to Cry’:
Visiting Rikers Island
NYC Jails Action Coalition
January 2018

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction									1
Section I: The Importance of Visits					

1

Section II: Visiting Rikers Island						2
Section III: What Visitors Say About Visiting				

3

Section IV: Conclusion and Recommendations			

6

Endnotes										8

The NYC Jails Action Coalition (JAC) produced this report. Special thanks to Laura Fettig and Kymáre Hutchinson for spearheading
the visit campaign and writing the report. Thanks also to Ummer Ali, Natalie Block-Levin, Maya Brown, Gina Bull, Brittany Castle,
Jared Chausow, Kelsey De Avila, Jillian Drummond, Alan Figman, Catherine Frizell, Sahiba Gill, Alex Griffith, Susan Goodwillie,
Patrick Hillman, Sarah Kerr, Tanya Krupat, Brian Lewis, Dori Lewis, Elizabeth Mayers, Alec Miranm, Five Mualimm-ak, Jennifer J.
Parish, Anna Pastoressa, Grace Price, Inem Richardson, Nora M. Searle, Jane Stanicki, Gale Wiener, Lindsey Wright, and the over
100 visitors we spoke to who gave their input for this report.
 
JAC is a coalition of activists that includes formerly incarcerated and currently incarcerated people, their family members, and
other community members who are working to promote human rights, dignity, and safety for people in New York City jails. For
more information about JAC, visit www.nycjac.org.

@JailsAction

NYCJAC

@jailsactioncoalition

‘IT MAKES ME WANT TO CRY’:
VISITING RIKERS ISLAND
Introduction

circuitous tables with six inch Plexiglas partitions—and
it continues to maintain a harsh, difficult, discouraging
and time-consuming visiting process.
	
The Jails Action Coalition has launched a campaign that
seeks to learn more about the experience of families
and friends who visit Rikers Island. Over the course of
2017, JAC members conducted outreach at the Q100
bus stop in Queens Plaza, and interviewed friends and
family who were traveling to Rikers Island to visit their
incarcerated loved ones. We spoke to over 100 visitors,
a majority of whom were women, and completed over
50 surveys. From this outreach, we learned about the
barriers visitors face and gathered recommendations
about how the visiting process could be improved. We
also heard from an attorney who currently represents
at least 45 visitors who report being sexually abused by
DOC staff during the visit process.

Visits are important for the well-being of incarcerated
people. Visits decrease the chance of recidivism;1, 2 may
help improve reentry experiences;3, 4 can improve family
relationships during incarceration and upon reentry,
especially relationships with children;5,6 and can increase
prison safety.7 In addition, visiting preserves the right of
family members to have a relationship with their loved
ones, and may even prevent health problems that can
result from long-term separation from an incarcerated
family member.8
The Board of Correction Minimum Standards protect the
right for people incarcerated in the New York City jails to
have visits from family and friends.9 An average of 1000
people visit Rikers Island every day—up to 1500 on the
busiest visit days—and about 30,000 children visit Rikers
every year.10 In May 2015, the Department of Correction
(DOC) proposed rolling back these visit protections
by limiting physical contact during visits and denying
whole classes of people the right to visit.11 The NYC Jails
Action Coalition (JAC) galvanized community members
to oppose these changes. Thirty-five people testified at
the Board of Correction’s hearing on the proposed rule
changes, and over 85 organizations and 54 individuals
submitted or signed on to written comments. The Board
ultimately rejected the DOC’s most severe restrictions
and reaffirmed the significance of visits, stating:

This report documents our findings and includes
recommendations for improving the visit process.
Section I, “The Importance of Visits,” highlights how
crucial visits are to the experience of incarcerated
people and their families and friends. Section II,
“Visiting Rikers,” describes the experience of visiting
from the perspective of those who visit. Section III
details the findings of our outreach and research.
And Section IV outlines recommendations for the
Department of Correction, the Board of Correction and
the City to adopt in order to improve the experience of
family members and friends who visit their loved ones
at Rikers.

Maintaining
personal
connections
with social and family networks and
support systems is critical to improving
outcomes both during confinement and
upon reentry. Visitation with friends
and family plays an instrumental role
in an inmate’s ability to maintain these
connections and should therefore
be encouraged and facilitated by the
Department.12

Section I: The Importance of Visits
Visits from family and friends can serve to keep
incarcerated individuals connected to their communities
and lives outside of the jail’s walls. Visiting allows family
members, including children, to maintain relationships
with their loved ones, and can help those who are
incarcerated remain hopeful.

	
Yet the conditions for visitors continue to be discouraging
at best and traumatizing and violent at worst. Visitors,
who many times have small children with them, wait for
hours; undergo multiple searches; submit to strict and
inconsistent dress code enforcement; are forced to miss
work or school; are treated with disrespect; and have
even experienced sexual harassment and abuse in order
to spend just one hour with their incarcerated loved one.
DOC has achieved its goal of restricting contact during
visits by redesigning visit rooms so that people sit at long,

Reentry and recidivism
Visits also play a vital role in successful reentry. A
2011 study of 16,420 people who were incarcerated in
Minnesota prisons between 2003 and 2007 found that
being visited while in prison significantly reduced
recidivism in the years following the person’s release.13
Many studies over decades have focused on this topic.14
Visits from friends, family, and others such as clergy
members and mentors allow incarcerated people to
1

Section II: Visiting Rikers Island

create, retain, and strengthen their social supports,
which is a key factor in preventing recidivism, and
can significantly improve a person’s transition to the
community after incarceration.15 People with strong
social ties are also more likely to find employment upon
their release.16 Promoting strong family bonds through
visits can reduce recidivism as most post-release
support, including cash assistance, a place to stay, and
job prospects, is provided by family members.17

Family members and friends who wish to visit their
incarcerated loved ones must first make their way to a
Q100 bus stop in Queens. The ride from Queens Plaza,
where the Q100 originates, takes about 30 minutes.
When visitors arrive on Rikers, one or two correction
officers (COs) board the bus and announce that all
contraband must be left on the bus and that visitors will
be required to line up single file when exiting. Visitors
are also required to show identification to exit. Visitors
are brought inside the Samuel L. Perry Center and
instructed to stand in a circle with hats off and all bags
held to their sides. A dog is then led around the circle
twice. Visitors are then told to exit and head toward the
first set of lockers outside of the Central Visit House.
There are no clear signs instructing people what they
should leave in the lockers. Visitors are required to
bring quarters to operate the lockers, and many visitors
need to borrow quarters from others, especially if it is
their first time visiting and they were not aware they
would need them. Many times lockers are broken and
will not work or return the quarter. After putting their
belongings in a locker, visitors are asked to show their
identification again to a CO before proceeding inside
the Central Visit House, where they go through the first
metal detector search.

Mental health
Visits support individuals’ mental health while they
are incarcerated. Studies have shown, for example,
that youth who receive visits from their parents while
incarcerated report fewer depressive symptoms over
time compared to those who do not receive visits.18
Similarly, incarcerated mothers who receive fewer visits
from their children show more depressive symptoms
than those who receive more visits.19 Clearly, regular
visits can have a profound positive effect on the mental
health of those incarcerated.
Jail safety
People who are visited by loved ones consistently
throughout their incarceration engage in less
“misconduct” while in jail,20 which can lead to safer
conditions for incarcerated individuals and correction
staff. Visits can also help incarcerated people cope
with conditions that lead to violence; for example,
incarcerated people who receive visits perceive issues
like overcrowding as less oppressive, which can reduce
the likelihood of violent behavior.21 While the timing
and frequency of visits is important when examining
their effect on incidents of misconduct or violence,22
visits should be supported and encouraged as much as
possible because of their potential positive effect on jail
safety.

Once they have passed through the metal detector,
visitors disperse to different waiting areas depending
on which facility they are visiting. Once visitors make
their way to the correct waiting area, they must check
in with a CO and provide their identification as well the
book and case number of the person they are visiting.
They are also asked to provide their fingerprints. While
this is not required, COs do not tell visitors they have a
choice, nor are there signs that inform visitors of their
right to refuse to be fingerprinted.

Impact on families
Family members have a right to safely visit their loved
ones, and children have a right to maintain a relationship
with their incarcerated parent. Relationships between
incarcerated people and their family members, and
particularly their children, can be strengthened by
increased contact during incarceration23—although the
quality of the visiting environment may affect children’s
visiting experiences.24,25 One study found that barriers to
visiting were strongly related to decreases in the quality
of family relationships post-release.26 In an in-depth
study on the impact of incarceration on family members
of incarcerated individuals, family members who were
unable to talk to or visit their loved ones regularly were
more likely to self-report that their incarceration caused
negative impacts on their health.27

From there, visitors wait for another bus to take them
from the waiting area to the jail facility they are visiting.
They must sometimes wait over half an hour for the
next bus to arrive. While waiting for the second bus,
visitors are sometimes randomly chosen to leave the
visit area and go through an ion scan for drug residue.
If the test comes up negative, visitors can go back to
the previous area to wait for the bus, although they
may have missed the bus and have to wait even longer.
Once at the jail facility, visitors must remove their shoes
and pass through another metal detector. Once they
have cleared the second metal detector, they must
leave all their belongings, including their outer layers
of clothing, in a second locker, which also requires a
quarter. Visitors then enter a small room where they are
subjected to yet another body search, this time with a
2

hand-held metal detector. In some facilities on Rikers,
this last body search requires that two or three visitors
at a time lift their shirts, exposing their stomach; shake
out their bra; open their pants zipper and expose their
underwear; flip out the waistband of their pants; and
turn around to show their bare back. Visitors are then
requested to lower their socks below their ankles, lift
their sleeves up to their elbows, open their mouths and
stick their tongues out.

are directly in violation of DOC policy.29 As of November
2017, at least 45 women have filed or are in the process
of filing lawsuits that accuse the DOC of unlawful strip
searches, most of them at Rikers.30 According to an
attorney representing the plaintiffs, these strip searches
are still happening, and they are now being conducted
in bathrooms in the Central Visit House, out of sight
from surveillance cameras. He also shared that one of
the officers who was accused of sexual abuse has been
promoted to the DOC Investigations team. Our outreach
at the Q100 bus stop also confirmed that officers conduct
illegal strip searches on visitors. One visitor said she
felt violated during searches because they sometimes
includes officers “touching her privates.”

Finally, visitors are allowed to enter a waiting room where
they wait, sometimes for hours, until their loved one is
called to the visiting floor. These waiting rooms are cold,
even in the summer, and if a visitor leaves to use the
restroom they are denied their visit. Visits last one hour,
the room is often extremely loud, and it is often difficult
for visitors and their loved ones to hear each other.
After the visit, visitors must wait again for a bus to pick
them up and take them back to the Perry Center, where
they wait again for the Q100 to take them off the Island.

Treatment of visitors
Many visitors report that COs’ behavior as a major
concern and hindrance during visits. More than 50%
of surveyed visitors noted the need for improvement in
the way that COs treat visitors. Many visitors reported
that they were treated as though they had committed a
crime or were incarcerated themselves—a phenomenon
that has been called “secondary prisonization.”31 One
visitor said, “They treat me like I’m my husband, like the
one that we go see.”

Section III: What Visitors Say About Visiting
Visiting a person incarcerated at Rikers is a challenge
for families and friends. They must set aside a whole
day to spend only one hour with their loved ones and
endure the arduous visit process described above.
Visitors sometimes must even put their personal safety
at risk. Through conducting outreach to visitors at the
Q100 bus stop, and collecting first- and second- hand
accounts of people’s visiting experiences, JAC has
compiled some of the most egregious and frequently
raised complaints. These concerns and abuses create
barriers to successful visits and must be addressed.

“It makes me want to cry.
It’s a very cold experience.”
While a few visitors reported that certain COs are
nice and helpful, visitors more consistently reported
that COs are “disrespectful and rude” and that COs
often “talk nasty” to them and “aren’t understanding of
what visitors go through.” One visitor shared that she
witnessed a CO tell another visitor with her baby that
her loved one was “probably crying and masturbating
waiting for her.” Another visitor said that COs “pick on
people and treat them like animals” and “poke at inmates
for a reaction.” One 43-year-old visitor who visits her
boyfriend weekly said, “It makes me want to cry. It’s a
very cold experience.”

The barriers include:
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	

The risk of sexual abuse during unlawful strip
searches;
Other inappropriate behavior by COs;
Vague and inconsistently enforced policies;
Long commutes to the island;
Long wait times and excessive searches; and
An unwelcoming and uncomfortable physical
environment.

Even when searches do not end in sexual abuse, they
are invasive. One visitor described them as an “assault
on privacy.” “I felt violated because they’ve asked me
to show my underwear not only in front of officers
but in front of other visitors,” she shared. “They search
children’s diapers. They would do more to my daughter—
she is young and pretty, you would see the difference
in treatment and she would get searched more and
harassed.”

Sexual abuse of visitors
The DOC prohibits strip searches and cavity searches
of visitors to city jails, and yet many visitors, most of
whom are women, have reported being searched in a
way that constitutes sexual abuse by COs.28 Women and
men have reported being forced to strip down to their
underwear, show COs their genitals, suffer through
inappropriate touching of their breasts and genitals, and
undergo cavity searches—even though these searches

Vague and inconsistent policies
Visitors are often subjected to the whims of COs. One
3

visitor said that rules are “made up by each officer
according to their moods and power trips” and they
use their power in “a very nasty and corrupted way.”
For example, the Minimum Standards clearly state that
visits are a minimum of one hour, and that attorney
visits do not count towards the maximum number of
visits that an incarcerated individual is allowed. And yet,
visitors we spoke to reported visits that lasted less than
an hour or were denied completely because they were
told that an attorney took the incarcerated person’s last
visit. The Minimum Standards also allow for longer visits
for special circumstances such as additional travel time
required by the visitor, and yet we heard reports that
this rule was not being honored for visitors coming from
out of state.32

One visitor shared that she would watch some visitors
be waved through without being searched, and felt that
these visitors were being given special treatment. “When
I asked why, the COs told me to shut up. What else would
they be doing other than bringing in contraband?”
Excessive searches and long wait times
Families sacrifice entire days in order to see their loved
one for just one hour when they visit Rikers. Studies
show that visiting is very often a financial burden,
because taking time off work, obtaining childcare, and
the transportation costs associated with visiting can
add to the debt caused by loss of the incarcerated family
member’s income and legal fees that many families face
when a family member is incarcerated.35 In addition,
visitors must accommodate the visit schedule: Only
Fridays are open to all visitors regardless of their loved
one’s last name; four days a week, visits are restricted by
last name; and two days a week there are no visits at all.36
All too often, visitors get all the way to the island only
to find that their loved one’s building is on lockdown,
which means there is no movement allowed within the
jail and they aren’t able to visit that day.

“How do you visit and talk about
things if you know there will be
repercussions for talking about
certain things? If you talk about
how the guards are mistreating
you in front of the guards, they
are going to mistreat you. How do
you find out if someone’s okay?”

One visitor said that it seems like long waits happen
because COs just “sit, talk and make you wait.” Another
lives near Rikers, but when she visits it still takes up a big
part of her day—she says that if she gets there at 2:00
p.m. she won’t leave until 10:00 p.m. or later. Another
visitor reported waiting until 10:00 a.m. to be processed
even though visits start at 8:00 a.m. because the CO
didn’t arrive until 9:00 a.m. One visitor said that “after I
visited the first time, I knew it was gonna be a whole day
no matter what.”

Some visitors we spoke to complained that officers
seemingly make up their own rules regarding what
color or type of clothes visitors can wear. One visitor
reported being denied his visit because he was wearing
“gang colors.” “I wasn’t offered any other clothing, they
wouldn’t even let me turn my shirt inside out. They just
said ‘hey, you have to go,’” he said. The DOC’s policy
specifically allows for visits to continue if the dress
code is violated as long as the visitor agrees to wear
a Department-issued cover-up.33 The same visitor
reported that on another occasion COs listened to his
visit with his incarcerated friend, even though it is in
direct violation of the Minimum Standards for COs to
monitor visits without a warrant.34 He was asked to
leave when he confronted the officer about listening
to the conversation. Visit areas are so loud that often
visitors are forced to shout to be heard by their loved
one, which makes it even more difficult to have a private
conversation. “The whole process is invasive even when
the invasive part is over,” he shared. “How do you visit and
talk about things if you know there will be repercussions
for talking about certain things? If you talk about how
the guards are mistreating you in front of the guards,
they are going to mistreat you. How do you find out if
someone’s okay?”

“After I visited the first time, I
knew it was gonna be a whole day
no matter what.”
Excessive searches certainly exacerbate long wait times
for visitors. In July 2015, then-Commissioner Ponte
acknowledged that multiple searches were problematic
and agreed to consider changes in the search process. He
also agreed that wait times should be reduced. Instead,
DOC added an additional search in which visitors
are subjected to passive canine inspection. Visitors
complain that the number of searches does not make
sense, especially if they are having a non-contact visit.
One visitor described it this way: There are “searches,
again, again, again, again, five times.”
DOC insists on multiple searches in order to prevent
contraband from entering Rikers. Yet the Board of
Correction’s 2015 report Violence in New York City Jails:
4

and seats on the other side for the person being visited.
Visitors complain that the long tables make for a much
less intimate visiting experience than smaller tables.
The design is also extremely problematic for visiting
children. Under the Board standards, incarcerated
individuals are permitted to hold children in their family
who are age 14 and younger.43 For a child to be able to
sit with their incarcerated family member as permitted
by the Standard, they have to walk all the way around
the long circuitous table, through other people’s visits.44
Families are generally discouraged from leaving their
seats, adding another barrier for children to sit on their
incarcerated parent’s lap. JAC indicated to the Board
that this new infrastructure would be problematic for
children, yet no accommodation was made.

Slashing and Stabbing Incidents found that nearly 80%
of weapons recovered in 2014 were fashioned from
items found or used in the jails, and only 10% were
likely introduced from the outside.37 A New York City
Department of Investigation report from 2014 found that
a large portion of the illegal trafficking of contraband is
carried out by uniformed guards and civilian employees.38
Given the reality of how contraband enters Rikers, the
number of searches is excessive and unnecessary.

There are “searches, again, again,
again, again, five times.”
Another visitor complained that random drug searches
are unfair and cause extra delays. “Sometimes you’ll get
pulled out of the waiting room for a random drug search
and then you lose your place in line. Just because you
maybe came in contact with drugs doesn’t mean you
shouldn’t get a visit. Say a visitor is a drug addict, so
because you’re a drug addict you shouldn’t have a visit?”

For those families and incarcerated individuals who are
denied a contact visit, visits occur inside a booth with
the incarcerated person on one side of a Plexiglas divider
and the visitor on the other side. People have reported
that communication is difficult because there are no
phones to use to speak to each other through the glass.
Visitors and incarcerated people are forced to raise their
voices to make themselves heard, which contributes to
the noise and chaos of the visiting environment. In some
facilities the Plexiglas is so scratched and dirty that it is
difficult to see through. One visitor said, “You have to
mime what you are saying. And other families are trying
to talk and everyone’s screaming.” Non-contact visits
can be emotionally difficult for families, especially for
those with young children who become distressed at
not being allowed to touch their incarcerated parent.45

Although repetitive searches and processing times make
waits longer, the physical location of Rikers is a big part
of the problem. Visitors must rely on just one bus line to
get to and from the island, which can add hours to their
commute.39 The inaccessibility of Rikers takes its toll on
visiting: In 2017, the visit rate at Rikers was roughly half
that of NYC’s borough jail facilities.40
Physical environment
The physical environment at Rikers plays an important
role in the experience of visits. Visiting areas are
dirty and uncomfortable, and are often cold, loud and
chaotic. Visitors have complained that the water from
the water fountains comes out rusty—a direct violation
of the Minimum Standards, which require drinking
fountains be available to visitors.41 Once visitors get to
the jail facility where they wait for their visit, they are
not allowed to use the restroom or else their visit will
be denied. Visit areas are cold, even in the summer, and
visitors are not allowed to wear any outer layers. The
only food available to visitors is through the vending
machines in the Central Visit House, and food is not
allowed in the visiting areas of jail facilities, so visitors
often wait for hours without access to food or restrooms.

“You have to mime what you are
saying. And other families are
trying to talk and everyone’s
screaming.”
Despite these hardships, visitors consistenly affirm
the importance of visiting for themselves and their
incarcerated loved one. One 24-year-old visitor shared,
“[Visiting] makes my son’s father’s day. I’m the only one
who visits him. It makes his time go faster. Visits make
my day as well. My son loves to go, he says ‘daddy’ as we
cross the bridge.” A mother who visits her incarcerated
son said, “I look forward to visits. I feel better when I
see him. [It] feels good to know he is in good health and
good spirits.” Visitors put up with the arduous and at
times dangerous process of visiting becuase they are
dedicated to seeing their loved ones. The DOC, the
Board, and the City should be supporting visitors, not
disuading them.

One of the most frequently cited problems among
visitors with children is that there is no space for
children to play; long wait times make visiting even
more difficult for families with small children. In 2015,
the BOC approved six-inch high partitions in the center
of visit tables between visitors and their incarcerated
loved one.42 DOC also modified visit rooms to have one
long circuitous table with seats on one side for visitors
5

Section IV: Recommendations

		1. Facility;
		
2. Demographics (gender, race, and age);
		
3. Category (abusive pat frisk, strip search, 		
	
sexual abuse47);
		
4. Number of investigatory days complaints 		
	
have been pending;
		
5. Closing rates;
		
6. Category of alleged perpetrator (correction 		
	
officer, captain, other DOC staff);
		
7. Substantiation rates; and
		
8. Administrative actions taken against staff.

Visiting is a crucial component of improving reentry
and decreasing recidivism, improving jail safety and
the mental health of incarcerated people, and helping
families who deal with the collateral consequences of
incarceration to maintain ties with their loved ones. We
have outlined our major concerns with the experience
of visiting and highlighted the voices of visitors. Below,
we detail recommendations for the Department of
Correction, the Board of Correction, and the Mayor’s
office. If followed, these recommendations will greatly
improve the experience of visiting and will support a
healthy and safe visiting process for incarcerated people
and their family and friends who visit.

2. The experience of visiting
Visiting is important to the wellbeing of both incarcerated
people and their family and friends. DOC should support
visitors to have the best visit possible and eliminate the
barriers to safe, efficient and meaningful visits. DOC
should:

Recommendations: Department of Correction
1. Preventing sexual abuse

•	

No one should have to suffer unlawful searches and
sexual abuse in order to visit their incarcerated loved
ones. DOC must take these allegations seriously and
take action immediately to keep them from happening.
DOC should:
•	

•	

•	
•	
•	

•	

•	

•	

•	

Launch
an
independent
and
transparent
investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse
during unlawful strip searches.
Ensure supervisors make rounds during visit hours
to ensure that DOC’s policies regarding searches are
followed.46
Ensure that when pat-frisk searches of visitors do
occur, supervisors are present to oversee the search.
Periodically re-train correction officers on DOC’s
search policies and how to do a proper search.
Immediately transfer any staff member from their
visit post if there is a complaint that the staff
member has conducted an improper search.
Immediately transfer any staff member from their
visit post when it has been determined that a staff
member has used undesignated search areas such
as bathrooms to conduct searches.
Provide visitors who are subjected to pat-frisk
searches with a card that includes the searching
correction officer’s name, badge number, an
explanation of the visitor’s rights, and a description
of how to make a complaint.
Hang signs in visit areas with a phone number
visitors can call to report sexual abuse. Consider
including the NYPD Special Victims Unit hotline
number.
Track and publish quarterly numbers of sexual
abuse complaints by visitors, including the following
information:

•	

•	

•	

•	
•	

•	

•	
•	

•	

•	
•	
6

Create child-friendly visiting areas so that (a)
visiting children and their caretakers have a place to
comfortably wait for their visit and (b) incarcerated
parents can interact with their children in a familylike environment that promotes connection.
Children should be provided with crayons, books,
toys, etc.
Improve the physical environment of visiting areas,
including bathroom facilities, drinking fountains,
and seating; ensure visiting areas are warmer.
Allow visitors to use the restroom while they are
waiting for their loved one to be called to the visit
floor without losing their visit.
Install smaller visit tables and remove 6-inch
Plexiglas dividers to allow for a more private and
intimate visiting experience.
Replace Plexiglas in booth visit areas and install
phones so that visitors can hear their loved ones.
Ensure that correction officers adhere to DOC policy
regarding monitoring of conversations between
visitors and their incarcerated loved ones.
Add more busses from the Central Visit House to jail
facilities (as well as more bus drivers) and implement
a set bus schedule in order to cut down on wait
times for visitors.
Eliminate the canine search and reduce searches so
that visitors are only searched once.
Eliminate random ion scan drug searches as they too
frequently lead to false positives and unnecessarily
delay visits.
Consider increasing searches for correction officers
and/or enforce searching correction officers to cut
down on contraband entering Rikers.
Prioritize shortening wait times for visitors.
Develop and publicize a notification system (such as

•	

•	

•	

•	

•	

•	

•	

a call-in line, Twitter page, or updated web page) so
that visitors are notified of lockdowns before they
arrive on Rikers.
Update website consistently with visiting rules.
Ensure correction officers consistently follow every
rule posted on the website.
Publish the existing Visitor’s Guide and post a link
to download it on the DOC visiting website. Provide
paper copies to visitors when they arrive at Rikers.
Enforce consistently policies that require DOC to
provide clothing to visitors who do not meet dress
code rules. DOC should provide both shirts as
currently practiced, as well as sweatpants if needed.
Visitors should not be turned away for wearing
certain colors.
Lengthen visits from one hour to two or three hours,
extend visiting hours, and add two more visit days
so that visitors can visit seven days a week.
Hang posters informing visitors of their rights in
visit areas, and include information about how to
contact the Board when rights are violated.
Launch a PSA campaign to inform visitors of their
rights when they visit Rikers, including signs and
an informational recording that plays on the Q100
so that visitors are informed of their rights before
reaching Rikers.
Collect information on how long each visitor must
wait before seeing their loved one and report this
data to the Board monthly.

•	

Recommendations: Board of Correction
1. Compliance monitoring
The Board should focus on monitoring current rules
regarding visits. The Board should:
•	

•	

•	

•	

•	

•	

3. Programming and oversight

•	
•	

•	
•	

•	
•	

•	

Ensure COs are properly conducting searches, and
that unlawful strip searches are not happening, by
sending BOC staff to monitor visit areas.
Test water fountains and monitor restrooms for
functionality, cleanliness, and refilled toilet paper
and soap.
Ensure that visitors who do not comply with DOC
dress code are offered clothing alternatives and
are not turned away from visits unless they do not
consent to wearing clothing alternatives.
Ensure COs are not monitoring conversations
between family and friends and their incarcerated
loved ones without a warrant.
Require that DOC staff inform visitors of their right
not to be fingerprinted when being checked in at
the Central Visit House.
Require DOC to provide opportunities for childparent contact in visit areas.

2. Rulemaking

DOC should make some systemic changes in order to
improve visits overall:
•	

Do not at any point replace in-person visits with
video visiting. If video visiting is implemented, it
should be available as a supplement to in-person
visits only and it should be available at no cost.

The Board should engage in rulemaking to improve the
quality of visits and take the opportunity to hear from
visitors on what would make the visiting experience
better. In particular, the Board should:

Investigate correction officers who work in visit
areas for gang activity.
Promote and encourage visits for people who do not
receive regular visits.
Continue working on the plan underway to promote
events to encourage children to visit their mothers
held at Rikers.
Get input from family members who visit on visit
policies and practices.
Provide better training for correction officers so
they are more prepared to deal compassionately
with the issues that visitors face.
Revitalize the Visit Working Group, including adding
more members.
Discontinue the use of non-contact visits as
punishment for small infractions by incarcerated
individuals.
Do not allow COs to work double shifts; exhausted
COs do not contribute to a positive visiting
environment.

•	
•	
•	

•	

•	

•	

7

Expand the Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment
Minimum Standards to include rules about visits.
Require visits be longer than one hour.
Require DOC to track and report wait times for each
stage of the visiting process, as well as document
search procedures for each visitor.
Require DOC to provide notice to visitors of any
lockdowns occurring on a particular day so that
visitors can check ahead of time before traveling to
Rikers.
Require DOC to post visit rules and visitors’ rights
and the Board’s contact information in visible places
in visit areas.
Require DOC to provide a card with the searching
CO’s information, the visitor’s rights regarding
searches and the Board’s contact information each
time a pat-frisk search is performed.

•	
•	
•	

Eliminate the rule which allows for a 6-inch Plexiglas
divider at visit tables.
Allow for more contact during visits.
Limit the number of searches to which visitors are
subjected, including eliminating the canine search
and random ion scans.

build new visit areas and implement visit policies that
reflect the needs of visitors and their incarcerated loved
ones. In particular, the City should:
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	

Recommendations: Mayor’s Office
As the plan for closing Rikers moves forward and plans
for new jails begin, the City should consider the issues
visitors have faced at Rikers and thoughtfully plan to

Make visit areas accessible by multiple forms of
transportation.
Build comfortable and child-friendly visiting areas.
Require only one search for visitors.
Provide extensive visit hours 7 days a week.
Create multiple ways for visitors to learn about their
rights and DOC rules, including clear signage in visit
facilities.

Endnotes
1	
Page 904–5. Mears, D., Cochran, J. Siennick, S. and Bales, W. (2012, December). Prison visitation and
recidivism. Justice Quarterly, 29(6), pp. 889–918.
2	
Minnesota Department of Corrections. (2011, November). The effects of prison visitation on offender
recidivism. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Corrections. Retrieved from https://mn.gov/doc/assets/1111MNPrisonVisitationStudy_tcm1089-272781.pdf.
3	
deVuono-powell, S., Schweidler, C., Walters, A., and Zohrabi, A. (2015). Who pays? The true cost of
incarceration on families. Oakland, CA: Ella Baker Center, Forward Together, Research Action Design.
4	
Berg, M. and Huebner, B. (2011, April). Reentry and the ties that bind: An examination of social ties,
employment, and recidivism. Justice Quarterly, 28(2), pp. 382–410.
5	
Page 331. La Vigne, N., Naser, R., Brooks, L., and Castro, J. (2005, November). Examining the effect of
incarceration and in-prison family contact on prisoners’ family relationships. Journal of Criminal Justice, 21(4), pp.
314–335.
6	
Minnesota Department of Corrections. (2011, November).
7	
Cochran, J. (2012). The ties that bind or the ties that break: Examining the relationship between visitation
and prisoner misconduct. Journal of Criminal Justice, 40, pp. 433–440.
8	
deVuono-powell, S., Schweidler, C., Walters, A., and Zohrabi, A. (2015). See page 9.
9	N.Y.C. Rules & Regs. tit. 40, § 1-09(a).
10	
New York City Department of Correction. (2017, October). NYC Department of Correction at a Glance:
Information through first nine months of FY 2017. Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doc/downloads/
pdf/DOC_At-Glance-4-27-17.pdf. In addition, internal data shared with the DOC Visiting Workgroup based on
April–June 2015 numbers of children (under age 16) who visited was multiplied to reach approximately 30,000
children. Each month included more than 3,000 children.
11	
Ponte, J. (2015, May 26). Petition to the NYC Board of Correction for rulemaking pursuant to the City
Administration Procedure Act [Letter to Stanley Brezonoff]. East Elmhurst, NY. Retrieved from http://www1.nyc.
gov/assets/boc/downloads/pdf/DOC%20Petition%20for%20Rulemaking.pdf.
12	N.Y.C. Rules & Regs. tit. 40, § 1-09(a).
13	
Page 27. Minnesota Department of Corrections. (2011, November).
14	
Page 889–90. Mears, D., Cochran, J. Siennick, S. and Bales, W. (2012, December).
15	
Minnesota Department of Corrections. (2011, November).
16	
Duwe, G. and Clark, V. (2011). Blessed be the social tie that binds: The effects of prison visitation on offender
recidivism. Criminal Justice Policy Review 24(3), pp. 271–296. Retrieved at http://cjp.sagepub.com.proxy.wexler.
hunter.cuny.edu/content/24/3/271.full.pdf+html.
17	
deVuono-powell, S., Schweidler, C., Walters, A., and Zohrabi, A. (2015). See page 9.
18	
Monahan, K.C., Goldweber, A., and Cauffman, E. (2011, April). The effects of visitation on incarcerated juvenile
offenders: How contact with the outside impacts adjustment on the inside. Law and Human Behavior, 35(2), pp.
143–151.
19	
Poehlmann, J. (2005). Incarcerated mothers’ contact with children, perceived family relationships, and
depressive symptoms. Journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division
43), 19(3), pp. 350–357.
20	
Page 439. Cochran, J. (2012).
8

21	
Page 37. Woolredge, J.D. (1997). Explaining variation in perceptions of inmate crowding. The Prison Journal,
77, pp. 27–40.
22	
Cochran, J. (2012).
23	
Page 331. La Vigne, N., Naser, R., Brooks, L., and Castro, J. (2005, November). See page 331.
24	
Page 590. Poehlmann, J., Dallaire, D., Loper, A.B., and Shear, L.D. (2010, September). Children’s contact with
their incarcerated parents: Research findings and recommendations. American Psychologist, 65(6), pp. 575–598.
25	
Tasca, M. (2014, March). “It’s Not All Cupcakes and Lollipops”: An investigation of the predictors and effects
of prison visitation for children during maternal and paternal incarceration (doctoral dissertation). Arizona State
University, Tempe, Arizona. Retrieved from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/248650.pdf. See page 110.
26	
Mowen, T. and Visher, C. (2016). Changing the ties that bind: How incarceration impacts family relationships.
Criminology & Public Policy, 15(2), pp. 503–528. See page 520.
27	
deVuono-powell, S., Schweidler, C., Walters, A., and Zohrabi, A. (2015). See page 9.
28	
Rakia, R. (2017, January 10). “A Living Nightmare”: Women visiting loved ones jailed at rikers describe a
pattern of invasive searches by guards. The Intercept. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2017/01/10/rikersisland-strip-search-new-york-city-jails-visitors/.
29	Ibid.
30	
A. Figman, personal communication, November 27, 2017.
31	
Comfort, M. (2003, February). In the tube at San Quentin: The “secondary prisonization” of women visiting
inmates. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 32(1), pp. 77–107.
32	N.Y.C. Rules & Regs. tit. 40, § 1-09(b)(7).
33	
“Dress Code Policy.” Department of Corrections. Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doc/inmateinfo/visitors-dress-code.page
34	N.Y.C. Rules & Regs. tit. 40, § 1-09(g)(6).
35	
Page 29. deVuono-powell, S., Schweidler, C., Walters, A., and Zohrabi, A. (2015).
36	
“Visiting Schedule.” Department of Corrections. Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doc/inmateinfo/visit-inmate-schedule-december-2017.page.
37	
The City of New York Department of Correction. (2015, April 22). Violence in New York City Jails: Slashing and
Stabbing Incidents. Retrieved from http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/boc/downloads/pdf/Violence%20in%20New%20
York%20City%20Jails_Slashing%20and%20Stabbing%20Incidents.pdf
38	
Mark G. Peters, Commissioner. (2014, November). New York City Department of Investigation Report
on Security Failures at City Department of Correction Facilities. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/
interactive/2014/11/07/nyregion/rikers-security-report.html.
39	
Page 27, 74. Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. (2017). A
More Just New York City. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/577d72ee2e69cfa9dd2b7a5e/t/58e
0d7c08419c29a7b1f2da8/1491130312339/Independent+Commission+Final+Report.pdf
40	
Department of Correction. Visitation Quarterly Report. (2017, January 1). Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.
gov/assets/doc/downloads/pdf/INTRO_706_FY17_1-30-17.pdf.
41	
N.Y.C. Rules & Regs. tit. 40, § 1-09(f).
42	
Amendment to the Minimum Standards. Retrieved from http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/boc/downloads/pdf/
Amendment%20to%20the%20Minimum%20Standards.pdf.
43	N.Y.C. Rules & Regs. tit. 40, § 1-09(f).
44	
Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform. (2017).
45	Ibid.
46	
Visitors have complained that often supervisors are complicit in failing to properly search visitors. DOC
should also ensure that DOC administration is involved in monitoring proper search procedures.
47	
As defined by the Board’s Minimum Standards on preventing sexual harassment and sexual abuse.
Retrieved from: http://library.amlegal.com/nxt/gateway.dll/New%20York/rules/title40boardofcorrection/
chapter5eliminationofsexualabuseandsexua?f=templates$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:newyork_ny$anc=JD_
T40C005

9

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