The New York City Department of Correction and city officials are rethinking their policy of releasing prisoners without jackets during frigid winter months.
The New York Daily News reported in December 2016 that the city was routinely freeing prisoners from jail and court without proper winter clothing. Beleaguered public defenders and legal aid attorneys went so far as to keep a stash of coats on hand, many of which were donated by the lawyers themselves.
“It is inhumane and dangerous to release people into the cold in New York City without appropriate clothing, especially when they have far to travel from the courthouse,” said Sara Kerr, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project.
Apparently, the New York Daily News article touched a nerve. Donated clothing began flooding into local Legal Aid Offices. Gary Bagley, executive director of the nonprofit New York Cares, donated 70 coats which were distributed to courthouses around the city.
“The response has been enormous,” said Tina Luongo, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Practice Section. “I think when you see someone without a coat, even at Rikers [Island jail complex], people say this is not something we should be doing as New Yorkers.”
It seems the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed. A bill was hastily drawn up and signed into law that requires the Department of Correction to provide prisoners with “weather-appropriate” civilian clothing upon release.
Prison officials said they were “working diligently” to stock jails and courthouses with the cold weather gear, but did not specify a timeline for completing the project.
Attorney Tina Luongo said she will believe it when she sees it.
“‘We shall see’ is always our position with the Department of Correction,” she stated.
Originally published in Prison Legal News on December 5, 2017.