The New York State Commission on Correction released a new report this week, detailing the findings from its investigation into the horrific and preventable death of mentally ill black inmate, Bradley Ballard.
Ballard was left in his cell for six days straight in September, 2013. Guards shut the water off to his cell for over four days, and not once during that time was he treated for his schizophrenia and diabetes. On the rare occasion that he was seen by a medical worker, their talks did not last for more than a minute at a time. He was eventually found naked on the floor, covered in feces and urine with a rubber band wound tightly around his cut and infected genitals. Ballard would go into cardiac arrest just a few minutes after being removed from his cell and die from “diabetic ketoacidosis due to withholding of his diabetes medications complicated by sepsis due to severe tissue necrosis of his genitals as a result of self-mutliation.” The commission agreed with earlier assessments that Ballard’s death was, in fact, a homicide.
We’ve known a few of the major details of this case since his family filed a lawsuit on his behalf a few months back. But this report contains more explicit details of Ballard’s mistreatment that should reinforce the intense unease prisoners’ and their advocates feel over the continued role and impunity of Rikers’ for-profit inmate healthcare provider, Corizon Health Services, which will soon oversee inmate care in Rikers’ soon-to-be-constructed $14.8 million super-solitary unit known as the ESHU.
Between generous redactions, we are afforded a glimpse at the disturbing reality prisoners’ face under the care of Corizon staff and Rikers’ corrections officers. You should read the actual report because you can’t beat primary sources, but I’ll admit it is a bit cumbersome given the heavy blocks of redacted text and it’s call-and-response format. I created this annotated version of the report to organize the components a bit more logically, which I hope is helpful to some readers.
The commission does not mince words or shy away from assigning blame. It calls out Corizon repeatedly and unequivocally for “substandard medical and mental health treatment.” They write that Corizon’s work was “so incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience,” and that Ballard would have survived had he received the appropriate care. Corizon staff are said to have shown “deliberate indifference to Ballard’s serious medical needs by collectively failing to provide the very basics of medical care and failing to take appropriate action in a timely manner to a medical emergency.”
Ultimately, the commission writes, “The lack of coordinated care for and mismanagement of Ballard’s [redacted] represents grossly negligent medical care by Corizon, Inc., endangered Ballard’s life and subsequently caused his death.” Continue reading
Would NYC’s new rules for solitary confinement have saved the life of 19-year-old Andy Henriquez?
Henriquez was brought to Rikers Island when he was only 16. Three years later, he was still awaiting trial when he was placed in isolation. Henriquez had complained of chest pains for seven months before being thrown in ‘the bing,’ but no one at the prison took him seriously.
Health and correction staff ignored Henriquez’ increasingly-dire calls for help, to the point where other inmates on his block began shouting for someone to save him. But no one ever did. Henriquez suffered alone and in extreme pain, given only a prescription for hand cream under the wrong name, until he eventually died from a tear in his aorta.
The question of whether things might have turned out differently for Henriquez stood out in my mind on Tuesday as all 7 members of NYC’s Board of Correction (BOC) voted to adopt changes to the city’s solitary confinement policy.
The amendments featured an end to solitary confinement for all 18 to 21 year old inmates by 2016, “provided that sufficient resources are made available to the Department for necessary staffing and implementation of necessary alternative programming.” Effective immediately, solitary confinement will no longer be used for 16 and 17 year old inmates, those suffering from ‘serious mental illness,’ or those with owed-time.
The amendments also pave the way for the construction of a controversial new isolation area on Rikers Island called the ‘Enhanced Supervision Housing unit,’ or the ESHU, which will cost $14.8 million, introduce 250 new isolation beds to the island and have its own specially-trained, full time staff. Continue reading
The AP reports that the NYC Board of Correction (BOC) will vote this coming Tuesday on changes to solitary confinement on Rikers Island, including a new Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit (ESHU) for the prison’s “most dangerous” inmates and policies that seek to limit punitive segregation for other inmates, particularly the mentally ill and juveniles aged 16-21.
The proposed BOC rules also include:
- Ending isolation for ‘owed time‘
- Ending isolation for ‘minor offenses’
- Exempting ‘seriously mentally ill’
- Exempting juveniles aged 16-17
- Capping solitary confinement at 30 days
- Additional training for ESHU guards
The announcement of a $14.8 million ESHU is the latest piece of Mayor de Blasio’s Rikers Island reform package, and it is complicated by the fact that we don’t know what the programming or therapy regimen for its prisoners will look like. Such proposals are supposed to come out later this year. However, a former head of the Dept. of Mental Health & Hygeine voiced his skepticism over the plan when he testified at a public hearing last month, noting that “previous attempts to create special housing units for troublesome inmates that similarly claimed would provide therapeutic services ultimately turned into restrictive, punitive holding pens.”
And if you dig into the document, you can begin to see what he’s talking about. Continue reading
After a summer and fall wracked with reports of violence, corruption and abuse on Rikers Island, it seems like change, in some form, is finally on its way. Growing protests over law enforcement brutality and the advent of prosecutions, federal lawsuits, committee reports and policy changes now conspire to face down many of the NYC Dept. of Corrections’ worst demons.
Some of the possible reforms have yet to germinate, such as those stemming from the Justice Department’s lawsuit aimed at improving conditions for juvenile prisoners. It could take months or even years before cases like these are resolved and begin to influence the situation on the island. The same goes for the slow drip of prosecutions against individual guards like Terrance Pendergrass and Austin Romain.
The most immediate changes, however, can and will likely come from Mayor de Blasio’s administration, which delivered its own plan to tackle some of the major problems facing the city’s prison system at the end of last year. De Blasio is taking aim at the out-of-control state of prison mental healthcare, made more imperative by a surge in the number of such inmates: roughly 40% of Rikers inmates have been diagnosed with mental illness.
Rikers reform has been trickling out of the mayor’s office for a few months now. In November, at a press conference in which the mayor alluded to some of the greater reforms he would propose a month later, de Blasio said the city would spend $15.1 million to triple the number of security cameras in its jails. He also ordered a new unit for transgender women and “proposed placing the most violent inmates in new units, called enhanced supervision housing, where they would be locked in their cells 17 hours a day.”
In December, the mayor’s task force provided a concrete outline for reform that attempts to reach beyond prisons to other parts of the system in hopes of breaking the cycle of incarceration. The plan also contains a strategy for ‘multi-agency teams’ to oversee implementation, measure progress and hold people and agencies accountable. Here are some of the more-promising and immediate changes listed in the task force report: Continue reading
Corizon Health Services, inc. (formerly known as Prison Health Services, Inc.) routinely lied to families of deceased Rikers Island inmates about their cause of death — including incidents for which the company may have been responsible.
A spokesperson for Corizon told reporters that the death investigations were not technically kept secret from the families because they were always available through public records requests– an extremely difficult and time consuming process that not only forms an unnecessary obstacle to obtaining information they have the right to possess, but also ignores the fact that the families didn’t know there were investigations in the first place. How could they request documents for an investigation they didn’t know existed?
Meanwhile, as internal reports showed the company was regularly failing in its duty to care for inmates, Corizon continued to win contracts and make a profit selling taxpayers a terrible service: Continue reading
For years, the nation’s largest for-profit prison healthcare provider — Corizon Health Services, Inc. — has repeatedly won lucrative government contracts despite numerous appalling reports and hundreds of lawsuits for inmate abuse and employee misconduct.
But with the possibility of a federal intervention looming over their heads, NYC officials are considering revoking their contract with Corizon. The AP reports that anonymous leaks from the de Blasio administration claim the city drawing up plans to replace its private contract with a public or non-profit healthcare model. Continue reading
The Bronx Defenders recently put out a report on the use of solitary confinement at Rikers Island amid a growing number of reports of violence, abuse and mismanagement at the facility.
The study, titled Voices from the Box (PDF), surveyed 59 inmates between July 2013 and August 2014 and it confirms the horrifying and widespread use of solitary confinement against adolescent and mentally ill inmates.
Researchers found that half of Rikers prisoners in solitary were between the ages of 16 and 20, and 20% of them were teenagers. They also found that 72% of inmates in solitary were diagnosed with mental health issues, and “received grossly inadequate treatment” during isolation.
The United Nations believes that anything over a generous 15 days in isolation is tantamount to torture, yet the median number of days in confinement spent by Rikers inmates was 90. Many inmates spent over 23 hours a day in their cell. Continue reading