Dodging Soap Bars: How One Man Spent Three Weeks as a Rat on Rikers Island

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Rikers Island
Anthony Vega hoped to lay low at Rikers Island. He had never been to jail before. He was 40 years old, a Web designer, lived in the Village. He was arrested and booked on Christmas Eve. His boyfriend had told the police that Vega had threatened to hit him, and when the police ran his name they saw that he had an outstanding warrant in Florida on a years-old charge of operating without a real estate license. Because of the warrant, the judge ruled that he would be jailed without bail as he awaited trial.

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Rikers Island to Phase Out Solitary Confinement for 16- and 17-Year-Olds

Categories: Rikers Island
On the heels of a pair of damning reports, officials say the Rikers Island jail complex will phase out the use of solitary confinement among inmates as young as 16 and 17 years old by the end of the year. The change was first reported by the New York Times, which obtained a memo announcing plans to end the practice written by Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte and addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio.More »

Times Reveals Even More Corruption at Rikers

Categories: Rikers Island

In August, the U.S. Department of Justice released a report calling the conditions at Rikers Island unconstitutional. Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that the federal government would sue the city unless the city agreed to a list of sufficient reforms by a certain deadline.

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Two Lawsuits Filed Against the City Over Diabetes Deaths at Rikers Island

On August 24, 2013, 46-year-old Rikers Island inmate Carlos Mercado fell into a diabetic coma and then died. Less than three weeks later, on September 11, 39-year-old Rikers inmate Bradley Ballard died of diabetic ketoacidosis, a serious complication of the disease occurring when a diabetic does not get enough insulin.

Now, a year later, the families of both men have sued the city, charging that the jail caused the deaths by failing to provide the men adequate medical care for their disease.

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Solitary Confinement at Rikers Island is Torture and 'Inexcusably Extreme,' Bronx Defenders Say

Photo by Flickr user Matt Green
An entrance to Rikers Island.
Inmates are placed in solitary confinement at Rikers Island for "inexcusably extreme" amounts of time, a new report charges, "egregiously disproportionate" to the infractions they are alleged to have committed. While in solitary, it can be difficult for inmates to get access to the most basic of services, including food, showers, and phone time. That's according to the Bronx Defenders, a criminal defense nonprofit that represents several hundred thousand people in the Bronx each year. They've just released "Voices From the Box," a report on the conditions their clients experienced in solitary at Rikers, New York City's largest jail facility.

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Inmate Can Sue Rikers Island for Keeping Him in Isolation During Muslim Prayer Service

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On November 22, 2011, Rikers Island guards put Kevin Phillip into a segregation housing unit. It was punishment for something he did. Phillip spent 36 days there. On two Fridays over that stretch, Phillip asked the guards if he could attend a Muslim prayer service at the jail. The guards said that he was not allowed to while he was on punishment in the isolation unit.

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Financial Claims From Rikers Inmates Rose Dramatically over the Past Five Years

Credit: New York City Comptroller
Personal injury claims have risen dramatically over the past five years at Rikers Island Jail
Comptroller Scott Stringer has been getting some good press lately for his new ClaimStat program, which tracks financial claims against the city as a way of identifying potential problems. A New York Times editorial called it nothing less than a step toward "better governance through data."

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Cecily McMillan Asks Corrections Commissioner to Address "Desperate" Situation for Rikers' Women

McMillan reading a statement at the Rikers gates after her release in July.
It seems pretty clear that the situation at Rikers Island, the jail that holds the vast majority of New York City's prisoners, is reaching some kind of critical mass. While no one has ever been under the impression that it's some kind of model facility, a recent, scathing series of reports has revealed just how bad things are: after a two year investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice found "rampant" use of excessive force by guards against adolescent inmates. Before that, in July of this year, an investigation by the New York Times found similar brutality committed by corrections officers against mentally ill inmates. Three guards have been arrested for allegedly smuggling drugs into the jail, with correction officials darkly hinting there may be more arrests to follow.

In the wake of all that, Cecily McMillan, former Occupy protester and brief one-time resident of Rikers, is urging Commissioner Ponte to address what she calls the "desperate" situation at Rikers, particularly for women.

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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. More »

Three Rikers Guards Indicted for Smuggling Cocaine and Oxycodone Into the Jail

Photo by Flickr user Matt Green
The correctional officer-jail inmate relationship is often a fraught one, rife with resentment, misunderstandings and violence. But sometimes, just sometimes, the two groups can put aside their differences and work together. That's the silver lining we can take from the news that two current Rikers COs, Steven Dominguez and Divine Rahming, have been charged with smuggling cocaine and oxycodone into the prison with the help of an inmate and his girlfriend. Another former Rikers guard, Deleon Gifth, who resigned earlier this year, was arrested Monday on charges that he was paid $500 to deliver what he thought was oxycodone to an inmate back in February.

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