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Feds: More Reforms Needed at Rikers Island

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) - A federal prosecutor cautioned Tuesday that New York City's efforts to curb abuses of youth offenders at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex need to go further.

``It's encouraging to see that the city has done a couple things in recent days --- but there's a lot more that needs to be done,'' U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a forum hosted by Crain's magazine.

The comments came after reports this week that city corrections officials will end their longstanding practice of putting 16- and 17-year-old inmates in solitary confinement as punishment for breaking rules in the nation's second-largest jail system.

Last month, Bharara's Manhattan office issued a scathing report after the Justice Department's 21/2-year investigation into violence at three Rikers Island juvenile jail facilities. It found the jails to be an unsafe environment where guards routinely violate constitutional rights of teenage inmates by using excessive force and too often subjecting them to solitary confinement known by inmates and guards as The Bing.

Since that report was made public, federal prosecutors have met with city officials to encourage them to swiftly implement reforms. The DOJ report recommended moving all the youth inmates to a facility off Rikers supervised by experienced, better-trained guards; installing more video cameras; instituting a zero-tolerance policy for not reporting uses of force; and developing top-down training for staff.

Bharara suggested that it was still possible that federal prosecutors would take legal steps to impose further measures.

``Discussions have been had,'' he said. ``And if we don't think that enough is being done, we'll take the actions we need to take.''

He added: ``My commitment is that one way or another, whether it's being done voluntarily or pursuant to a court command, that we're going to get some real, enduring, enforceable reforms at Rikers.''

Before the report was issued, a watchdog agency charged with overseeing city jails, the New York City Board of Correction, was already in the midst of a lengthy process of changing rules that dictate when and how solitary confinement can be used for all inmates.

Advocates have long decried the use of solitary, which they say can exacerbate existing mental illnesses and serves no rehabilitative purpose. Jail guards say it's a necessary tool to control unruly and violent inmates.

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