NEW YORK — Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Corrections announced the elimination of solitary confinement within the city's jail system for inmates under the age of 21, making New York City the first in the country to do so.
It was a decision correction officers and their union opposed from the beginning saying it would create more violence and put the lives of the officers in danger daily.
The change was spurred, in part, by the suicide of Kalief Browder, who as a teen was held in solitary confinement for years at Rikers Island without conviction on a robbery charge. He took his life at age 22, not long after he was released from jail for lack of evidence.
Now, an officer who was attacked and slashed earlier this month, requiring six stitches, is speaking exclusively to PIX11 News about the dangers he and his fellow officers may face because of this change.
PIX11 News had hid his identity for his protection.
"I feel the need to speak now for officers who are not able to," he said. "The injury I suffered could have been prevented if there were greater consequences for inmates."
This officer has been on the job for 10 months. He was attacked by a group of inmates who he says are affiliated with a number of gangs. The inmates were all under the age of 21.
By removing solitary confinement, also known as punitive segregation, inmates who commit crimes in jail now will be placed in enhanced supervision units. Those units will include new programs to rehabilitate violent inmates.
But this officer says it is not good enough.
"I feel it puts us all at risk. There is limited to no consequences for these inmates," he said.
It is why the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which represents the 9,000 officers, took out a full-page ad in the Daily News Wednesday highlighting the 620 officers who were assaulted this year alone. The ad depicts a violent picture in which inmates under the age of 21 were involved in slashings 64 times in 2015, compared to 15 in 2011.
"All New Yorkers need to know we are not safe," said Elias Husamudeen, president of the union.
The union went a step further. They sued the mayor, the City Council and the Board of Corrections, speaking out publicly about the lawsuit Wednesday for the first time.
"We can't wait until an officer loses his or her life in one of these jails because no one is listening," Husamudeen said.
While City Hall touts this as reform and is eager to point out that overall violence is down in city jails officers say they are going to be thinking twice about putting themselves in harms way if inmates are fighting.
"We are second guessing ourselves now because the consequences seem greater for us," the attacked officer said.