The city Board of Correction did a very good thing Tuesday: nothing. Specifically, the board refused to even vote on proposals to limit its number of annual public meetings and to ban letters and packages for Rikers Island detainees in favor of having detainees read their mail on tablets and only receive books and other items from approved providers.
Anyone who has had a substantive conversation with a person who spent a long time behind bars, and especially in pre-conviction detention, knows that it’s the little things that keep them going and keep them hopeful. Chief among these are the books, letters, and photos of loved ones that they can hold on to.
The proposal would ostensibly maintain these communications, but in a way that would be subject to constant scrutiny by Department of Corrections staff and would end detainees’ ability to retain items they might value. He left no assurance that the DOC or private contractor Securus Technology would not flag detainees for protected speech, such as criticizing conditions or management.
Crucially, despite dire warnings from Commissioner Louis Molina about packages and letters acting as a conduit for drugs to Rikers, no one has come up with clear evidence that this is the main or even significant flow of contraband. news outlet the city found that other jurisdictions that had taken the same step saw their smuggling levels not change, or even saw them increase. Much clearer is the evidence that corrections officers, contractors and visitors find it easy and lucrative to smuggle things in, which is why we commend Molina for taking the surely unpopular step of searching more rigorously.
The idea of tablets is not fundamentally bad, if they are a supplement. They should not be a replacement for the mail, law libraries, or anything else. Crucially, the BOC fulfilled its role here of not being a rubber stamp for the mayor and DOC, but rather being a regulatory body for the system, and here there was simply no evidence that this would be a net positive.