Rikers Island is the nation’s second largest jail network. On most days it houses approximately 8,000 arrestees and receives more than 800 visitors. Since 2002, hundreds of those visitors have reported that they were randomly strip searched or cavity searched by New York City Department of Correction (DOC) officers. These random invasive searches violate the United States Constitution, which requires that, to justify the strip-search of a particular visitor, prison officials must reasonably suspect that the visitor is secreting contraband. The standard for body cavity searches is even higher. That is because courts have long recognized that such searches are an affront to the basic dignity of individuals who are forced to visit loved ones in jails and prisons.
LDF, with its co-counsel Beranbaum Menken LLP and Giskan Solotaroff & Anderson LLP, represents three individuals and a class of visitors who were subjected to demeaning and illegal invasive searches while visiting a DOC facility. The case was filed as a class action in November 2015.
In June 2019—after more than three years of litigation and several months of mediation before The Honorable James C. Francis IV (Ret.)—the City agreed to settle the case and undertake significant reforms. LDF worked with the City to revise its training protocol. The City will retrain Correction Officers (CO) to properly search visitors, and, going forward, no CO will be assigned to a visit post unless they have completed this training. LDF also worked with the City to modify DOC’s visitor search policy, consent forms, and signage to clearly indicate the proper way to search visitors. LDF also worked with the City to ensure accountability. Prior to assigning or re-assigning a CO to a visit post, DOC will now assess whether they are fit for the job. DOC will also submit to two-years of post-settlement oversight, including affording LDF access to visitor complaints and surveillance video; site visits; training observations; and a series of oversight meetings with DOC executives. The City has also agreed to pay up to $12.5 million in class-wide damages; up to $500,000 in administrative costs; $70,000 in service awards to the named Plaintiffs; and approximately $4,000 to each class member who was invasively searched, subject to certain limitations.
In October 2019 the court preliminarily approved the settlement.
To learn more about the settlement, or to submit a claim, please click here or call (844) 979-7313.