New York City has agreed to pay the family of Layleen Polanco – the trans-Afro-Latina who died while in solitary confinement at Rikers Island last year – a record $5.9 million. The settlement is reportedly the largest ever for the death of an inmate in a New York City jail.
Polanco, who was held on a $500 bail for misdemeanor sex work and drug possession charges, passed away after an epileptic related seizure after nine days in solitary confinement, The City reports. She was 27.
“This settlement will allow Layleen’s family to move forward without enduring years of protracted litigation and reliving their trauma,” the family’s lawyer, David Shanies, said in a statement to The City. “This being the largest settlement in the city’s history for a death in jail should serve as a powerful statement that trans lives matter.”
An investigation conducted by the city’s Board of Correction after her death revealed the Department of Corrections’ decision not to house transgender women in “general population housing areas for cisgender women” contributed towards Polanco being placed into solitary confinement. According to the board, the facility was “unsuitable to manage both her medical and mental health needs.”
The report also stated officers on duty failed to check on Polanco every 15 minutes “as required by DOC policy governing procedures in punitive segregation, leaving Ms. Polanco unobserved by DOC staff for stretches of 57 minutes, 47 minutes, and 41 minutes during the period between when she was last confirmed alive and when the medical emergency was declared.”
Speaking to The City, Polanco’s sister, Melania Brown, was adamant the settlement isn’t enough and called for the officers involved in her death to be fired.
“This is just the beginning of justice for my sister, this is not even close to being justice for her,” she said. “Justice would be holding those people who had something to do with my sister’s death accountable for their actions.”
Polanco’s death reignited calls to ban solitary confinement, with Mayor Bill de Blasio announcing changes to solitary rules that are going to take effect this summer in the aftermath of the incident. According to de Blasio, people with health conditions, including seizures and asthma, are going to be exempted from solitary confinements. He also announced the city will eventually end the practice, The City reported.
“We have to right the wrong,” de Blasio said during a news conference in June. “We can’t bring her [Polanco] back, but we can make change so that no one else goes through such a tragedy.”
The city Law Department also released a statement on Sunday expressing their condolences to Polanco’s family and reiterated their commitment towards introducing reforms in the city’s correctional system.
“The death of Ms. Polanco was an absolute tragedy and our thoughts remain with her family and loved ones. The city will continue to do everything it can to make reforms towards a correction system that is fundamentally safer, fairer and more humane.”
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