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Prison Visiting Project

Court Pens Monitoring

The Correctional Association works with the New York City Department of Correction and the New York Police Department to monitor and report findings on conditions in the City’s court pens–holding areas where individuals are detained after arrest and prior to arraignment, or when they are brought from jail to attend a court proceeding.

In 1989, the CA began to pay regular visits to these facilities, noting that many of the conditions that the detainees were forced to undergo were in violation of even basic standards of human rights. . In particular, CA observers found the lack of medical care in the court pens demonstrated a contradiction of the principle of ensuring humane treatment of detainees in the criminal justice system.

In 1993, the CA produced a report entitled Crisis in the Court Pens, which depicted these problems in detail and offered specific recommendations for reforms. Unlike state prisons and city jails, the court pens lacked any operating standards for such basic matters as cell capacity, appropriate food to be served, health care, and access to family, friends, and lawyers. Owing to the absence of standards, the CA noted that all agencies should be held accountable for the deplorable conditions in the court pens.

Now, by agreement with New York City Department of Correction and the New York City Police Department, the CA makes regular visits to the court pens, where CA staff assess the conditions of the facilities and monitor the provision of essential services, such as medical care, meals, sanitary conditions, and personal treatment. Additionally, the CA monitors delays in processing arrestees. The adverse conditions most frequently encountered inside include overcrowding, a dark and poorly ventilated physical plant and breakdowns in medical services and food delivery. The CA follows up its visits with letters to, and meetings with, relevant officials, and engages in other advocacy to press for improvements whenever they are warranted.