IACHR Conducted a Visit to New York, United States
April 24, 2014
Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a visit to New York, United States, from April 7 to 10, 2014. The visit aimed to gather information on the situation of persons under the age of 18 charged, tried, sentenced, and incarcerated as and with adults, and the detention conditions of youth in jails and prisons. New York is one of the two states in the United States that automatically excludes adolescents from the juvenile system at age 16, and tries them as adults. The delegation was led by the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, Commissioner Rosa Maria Ortiz, accompanied by staff attorneys of the Executive Secretary of the IACHR from the Office of the Rapporteurs on the Rights of the Child and Adolescents and on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty.
The Inter-American Commission highlights the cooperation of the federal, state and city authorities in conducting this visit, in particular the transparency in providing information as well as full access to the jail and its facilities and to be able to privately interview youth deprived of liberty. Commissioner Ortiz underscores the openness, transparency and support provided to her by the Federal and state authorities during her visit. “It was of the utmost importance that we were able to go inside a correctional facility and privately interview the adolescents”, she stated.
The delegation talked to state authorities in Albany including Acting Commissioner of the New York Department of Corrections, Anthony Anucchi, with the Chair of the Correction Committee of the State Assembly, Danny O´Donnell, and was welcomed by the New York State Assembly. The delegation also met city officials in New York City, including Member of the NYC Board of Corrections Bryanne Hamill and Executive Director Cathy Potler. In addition, they also received information from the Assistant Commissioner of the Correctional Health Services, Homer Venters.
The delegation visited the Robert N. Davoren Complex (RNDC) in Rikers Island jail in New York City. The Rapporteur was welcomed by the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections, Joseph Ponte, and the Warden of the Complex, James Perrino, as well as the Deputy Director for Strategic Planning and the complex’s school principal and other high ranking officials from the NYC Department of Corrections and the Mayor’s Office.
The visit also included meetings with civil society organizations, including Prisoner Legal Services, the Correctional Association of New York, CUNY IWHR Clinic and Criminal Defense Clinic, Cardozo Youth Justice Clinic, Center for NuLeadership, Jails Action Coalition and NYCLU, among others. The delegation met with youth advocates from the Raise the Age Campaign at the Correctional Association of New York and ROADS Charter High Schools, including formerly incarcerated youth in both the prison and jail systems.
“It is very positive that the New York government recognizes the need for legal reform, especially with respect to laws on raising the age for criminal liability, as well as banning the use of solitary confinement at least on persons younger than 19 years old,” said Commissioner Ortiz.
The IACHR published a report on Juvenile Justice and Human Rights in the Americas in which it stated that: “the States of the region are confronted every day with problems associated with criminal offenses committed by persons under the age of 18. International law has clearly established that a juvenile system must be in place for children and adolescents who violate criminal laws. But this special justice system does not apply to all children; instead, it applies only to those who have reached the minimum age at which they can be held accountable for violations of criminal law.” The Commission has established that it is unacceptable for States to exclude from that system any person who has not yet attained adulthood, which, under international law, is at the age of 18. The Commission has further stated that when dealing with youth, deprivation of liberty, whether for pretrial detention or as a sentence, must be a last resort – as must application of the juvenile system or adjudication..
Once the children and adolescents are detained, the Commission reminds the State that it becomes the guarantor of their rights; therefore, it must take positive measures to ensure that children in its custody effectively enjoy all their rights. In this regard, the Commission highlighted in its report that children deprived of liberty in the Americas have been victims of torture, sexual abuse, humiliation and unacceptable disciplinary measures such as solitary confinement, corporal punishment and other forms of violence, in violation of international human rights law. The Commission observed that children deprived of liberty are often denied access to basic services, such as medical care, education and recreation.
The Commission has held that deprivation of liberty invariably leads to the infringement of human rights other than the right to personal liberty. In this regard, the right to privacy and the right to family privacy may be restricted, for example. However, this restriction of rights, which is a consequence or collateral effect of the deprivation of liberty, must be strictly limited, as any restriction of a human right is generally permissible under international law only when it pursues a legitimate purpose and is adequate, necessary and proportionate. Furthermore, when the person deprived of liberty is under the age of 18, the IACHR has stated that the State has an added obligation to provide the special protection to which children and adolescents are entitled by virtue of their age.
In March 2013, the IACHR held a public hearing on the issue of the “human rights situation of children deprived of liberty with adults in the United States.” In light of the relevance of this issue, the IACHR will continue to closely monitor this situation, until all States treat youth offenders under the juvenile justice system and stop the practice of incarcerating them as adults..
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.