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Judge approves settlement to limit use of force in NYC jails

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK- A judge on Monday approved a class-action settlement requiring the installation of hundreds of video cameras in jails and better training of guards, saying it shows the city wants to reduce the use of force against inmates.

U.S. District Judge Denny Chin said the deal between lawyers for 22 inmates and the city would cost the city millions of dollars to upgrade its video monitoring system.

"The agreement will result in far-reaching and extensive remedies and initiatives that will address, in a concrete and effective way, the very difficult issue of the use of force in our prisons," he said.

The city does not admit liability under the deal, which stems from a 2002 Legal Aid Society lawsuit brought on behalf of the inmates, who alleged a pattern of excessive force by jail guards.

The deal will affect the majority of the 13,000 inmates in 11 city jails. Those jails not covered by the settlement reached Feb. 17 had already undergone improvements after legal agreements stretching back more than two decades.

As part of the latest deal, the city will pay $2.2 million to plaintiffs in amounts ranging from $15,000 to $575,000 for violent encounters with guards, including one that left a man blind in one eye and others that left inmates with fractures, lawyers said.

City attorney Arthur G. Larkin said the city was pleased that the judge approved the deal, which included continuing measures that already had reduced the use of force.

Chin noted that the city had offered evidence of a 33 percent decrease in incidents involving force in jails, from 1,463 incidents in 2000 to 974 in 2004.

The settlement calls for the installation or upgrade of hundreds of cameras within three years and for guards to try to videotape potentially violent encounters.

As part of their training, guards will be required to demonstrate defense techniques to deal with unruly inmates.

A new policy statement will also be put into place that bans using force to punish an inmate or more force than is necessary to restrain an inmate, control a situation or protect jailers.

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