Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

New York City Department of Correction Attempts to Humanize Prisoners

by Kevin Bliss

New York City Department of Correction (DOC) Chief of Department Hazel Jennings issued an order to all employees on October 8, 2019 that “prohibited [referring] to persons in ... custody using terms such as i.e. packages, bodies, etc.,” in a move intended to create a more humane correctional environment.

Jail officials must now refer to prisoners as “individuals” or “persons” in all radio transmissions, phone conversations and when speaking to others on duty. “It’s BS that you can’t call them ‘perps,’” the New York Post quoted from a “DOC source,” adding, “All part of [Mayor Bill] de Blasio’s plan to coddle criminals. Inmates get treated better than us [correctional officers].”

Elias Husamudeen, president of the Corrections Officers Benevolent Association, called the rule “redundant” and said more focus should be placed on jail violence, which is significantly on the rise.

Jennings’ order was issued just prior to a City Council vote on October 17, 2019 on a “bill of rights” proposal drafted by Councilman Keith Powers. The proposed bill would also allow prisoners access to kitchenettes and 24-hour “call buttons” to summon guards. “This is a small but encouraging step to humanize individuals in custody,” said Powers. “The policy [Jennings’ order] reflects legislation I introduced this month that would require incarcerated individuals to be called by their names – we are talking about people here.”

Simultaneously, Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have pushed to make changes in New York’s jail system, such as closing Rikers Island and opening four smaller borough jails. [See: PLN, Dec. 2019, p.24]. They hope to make the system more acceptable and conscious of prisoners’ rights.

“This notification reinforces existing policy and advances our goal of creating a culture of mutual respect. It is part of our ongoing commitment to remaking our jails into national models for modern correctional practice,” said DOC Deputy Commissioner Peter Thorne.

Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice of the Legal Aid Society, added, “This has been a long time coming, and we thank New York City Council for demanding action on this critical issue. Now we call on the New York City Police Department and officers of the court to do the exact same.” 



As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login