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Minimum Standards

In 1978 the Board adopted a set of sixteen Minimum Standards to provide what it considered to be the basic elements necessary to promote safe, secure and humane jail environments. The original Standards provisions sought ensure non-discriminatory treatment of prisoners, and regulated classification, personal hygiene, overcrowding, lock-in, access to recreation, practice of religion, access to courts, visiting, telephone calls, correspondence, packages, publications, and access to media. The original Standards remained substantially unchanged until 1985, when the Board promulgated three important amendments to Standards provisions regulating overcrowding, law libraries, and the variance process.

In 1983, when overcrowding prevented the City from complying with Federal District Court orders, the Department released more than six hundred pre-trial detainees. One immediate consequence of this “legal jailbreak” was the City’s decision to begin an ambitious emergency capital construction project whereby the Department would add almost 2,900 beds to capacity. To assist the Department and prevent further releases during construction, the Board agreed to amend the overcrowding section of the Standards that had required the Department to provide at least seventy-five square feet of living space per prisoner in dormitories. The amendment, effective in July, 1985, reduced the per-prisoner square-footage requirement by 20%, to 60 square feet, thereby providing the Department with immediate, temporary relief from the pressures of overcrowding and the threat of another release of prisoners. In exchange, the Department agreed to abide by maximum capacity limits for dormitories (50 detainees or 60 sentenced prisoners) opened after the effective date of the amendment. The Board also incorporated into the amended Standard the requirements of the City Building Code for ratios of operable toilets, showers and sinks in dormitories. The Board and Department agreed that dormitory capacity limits and fixture ratios would help to ameliorate the effects of increasing the number of prisoners housed in each dormitory.

In November 2007, following a multi-year review and lengthy public process, the Board voted to adopt a series of amendments to the original Minimum Standards. This process was the first comprehensive review of all of the original provisions since the Minimum Standards took effect in 1978. Several amendments made permanent longstanding variances authorizing DOC to quarantine prisoners confined for medical reasons in contagious disease units. Other amendments authorize the Department: to require all prisoners to wear uniforms; to record and monitor prisoner telephone calls; to read prisoner correspondence when there exists a reasonable belief that the correspondence threatens the safety or security of the facility, another person, or the public; and, to deny a prisoner access to outdoor recreation for up to five days for misconduct on the way to, from, or at recreation. The amendments became effective on June 16, 2008. For more information on the 2007 amendment process, visit the rulemaking page.

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