Rikers Island Violence Violates Constitutional Rights of Younger Inmates, says DOJ

Rikers Island is a very violent place. We've known this for a while now and are reminded with each new report about an inmate beaten or dying at the facility. For years, inmates and advocates have called out corrections officials for the ongoing brutality at Rikers. Now the federal government has too. The U.S. Department of Justice declared, in a report released on Monday, that the conditions at Rikers Island are unconstitutional.

See Also: Rikers Captain Terrence Pendergrass Arrested for Inmate's Death

"We conclude that there is a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the
constitutional rights of adolescent inmates," the report stated. "In particular, we find that adolescent inmates at Rikers are not adequately protected from harm, including serious physical harm from the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by [Department of Corrections] staff."

The investigation, which began in 2012, focused on the plight of 16-, 17-, and 18-year-old inmates. New York is one of two states that automatically charges 16-year-olds as adults. In 2012, there were 791 18-and-under inmates. That population has been declining. There were 682 in 2013, and 489 in 2014.

The report detailed a long list of problems at the jail, which houses around 140,000 total inmates. They mostly involve correction officers beating up inmates, and then covering up that they beat up inmates. Among the problems:

  • "Rikers staff strike adolescents in the head and face at an alarming rate, and too often employ force for the purpose of inflicting injuries and pain."
  • "force is used as punishment or retribution," including "in response to inmates' verbal altercations with officers."
  • "use of force by specialized response teams within the jails is particularly brutal."
  • "use of force is particularly common in areas without video surveillance cameras."
  • "inadequate reporting by staff of the use of force, including false reporting."
  • "inadequate investigations into the use of force."
  • "a powerful code of silence prevents staff who witness force from reporting."
  • "inadequate staff discipline for inappropriate use of force."
  • "general failures by management to adequately address the extraordinarily high levels of violence perpetrated against and among the adolescent population."

In 2013, according to the data, Rikers staff reported using force against an adolescent inmate 565 times. That year there were 845 reported incidents of inmate-on-inmate fights, as well. Adolescent inmates received emergency medical treatment 459 times in 2013.

Next: "excessive and inappropriate" use of solitary confinement.

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