Federal Judge Approves Landmark Settlement in Rikers Island Jails Reform Case

In The News
October 22, 2015
William I. Sussman
Christopher P. Conniff

On Oct. 21, Judge Laura Taylor Swain of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval to a landmark settlement in Nunez v. City of New York, a class action lawsuit that challenged the unconstitutional use by Department of Correction staff of excessive force against inmates of the New York City jails on Rikers Island.

The following statement was issued by partner Bill Sussman, co-chair of the pro bono practice at Ropes & Gray, who with partner Christopher Conniff led the firm’s involvement in the Rikers Island case:

“Today’s final court approval of the settlement puts in place a comprehensive set of reforms in the New York City jails, and should lead to a safer, more secure environment for inmates and correction officers. It is designed to remedy a long-standing problem of excessive staff violence against inmates, and it includes measures to assure compliance with its terms. Counsel for all parties in this case worked tirelessly to reach this milestone. We appreciate the court’s eloquent articulation today of the important legal and human principles advanced by this settlement.”

The settlement requires a comprehensive set of reform measures by the Department of Correction, designed to lead to a safer and more secure environment for inmates and correction officers. In granting final approval, Judge Swain called the settlement “groundbreaking” and noted that it “provides an important example for other correctional systems around the country.”

“The way we treat inmates not only affects the lives of those individuals, but conveys important messages about how we as a society value these individuals and the communities to which they will return,” Judge Swain said. “Such serious attention to the safety, supervision and monitoring of inmates and corrections personnel alike, requires and confirms the recognition of the worth and dignity of every human being.”

Ropes & Gray, together with The Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project and the law firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, served as counsel in Nunez to a court-certified class of all current and future inmates of the City’s jails.

To read more about Ropes & Gray’s involvement in prison reform and other pro bono initiatives, click here. A video about the settlement is available here.