Teens on Rikers To Get Jail Uniforms; DOC Says It'll Reduce Fights; Inmate Advocate Says Benefit "Debatable"

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In another of a range of efforts to reduce violence in the city's jail for teenage inmates, the Correction Department is going to require them to wear uniforms, rather than personal clothing.

Correction officials say the move will enhance safety and security among the Robert N. Davoren Center's teen population, which basically means it will remove competition over personal clothes and shoes, which is one of the reasons that fights start. The move, slated to started this week, was enabled by a rule change approved by the Board of Correction dating back to 2008.

And the reaction? Well, John Boston, project director of the Legal Aid Society's Prisoners Rights Project, says the devil is in the details.

"We are concerned about the implementation process based on past experience," Boston says.

"When they did the shoe exchange back in early 2009 or late 2008, the staff approached the task quite confrontationally and we got a lot of complaints about excessive force, sometimes for no more than asking questions or otherwise mouthing off."

Boston added that the benefit of the move is "debatable." "Anything that deprives prisoners of what little autonomy that remains to them is bad from the standpoint of mitigating the regimentation and dehumanization of jail life," he said. "DOC says that putting everyone in the same clothing will reduce conflict and violence. We'll see."

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