In December, the New York Times ran a story on a sadly historic event:
The first Rikers Island correction officer to be tried for civil rights abuses in more than a decade was found guilty on Wednesday by a jury for his role in the death of an inmate in 2012.
Terrence Pendergrass could serve up to 10 years in federal prison for refusing to seek medical attention for Jason Echevarria, 25, a pretrial detainee, who cried out for help after swallowing a highly toxic packet of detergent that burned through his digestive tract.
Mr. Pendergrass was found guilty of one charge of violating the constitutional right of a prisoner to receive attention for serious medical needs. His lawyer, Samuel M. Braverman, said he would appeal the decision, which was handed down in Federal District Court in Manhattan.
This was the first time in over a decade that a Rikers corrections officer went to trial for civil rights violations. Before him was Roger Johnson in 1996, after he and several other Rikers guards beat inmates and then falsified reports.
After representing a man who refused medical attention for a dying and helpless prisoner, defense attorney Samuel Braverman said he believed it was “a very tough time for a law enforcement officer to be on trial.” He told reporters he felt the recent protests against police brutality in the city ‘influenced the jury’ and said he thought the jury was trying to ‘compensate for other systemic issues at Rikers.’
While I’m willing to give Braverman the benefit of the doubt that these were more off-hand remarks meant to explain away the guilty verdict than they were honest, deep analyses of the system, these kinds of statements are revealing nonetheless.
If the protests are, in fact, moving juries to finally bring convictions against criminal Rikers guards, we should all go out and thank a protester today for bringing an end to an 18 year freeze in justice for inmates. But it remains to be seen whether this is an isolated case or the beginning of a thaw in legal accountability for Rikers officers. If it does continue, there is little doubt in my mind that we can expect to see the same reaction from them as we have from the NYPD and its unions. Rikers Island has its own history of lashing out against threats to their impunity that bares striking resemblance to the actions of the NYPD in recent months. Continue reading
There is rightful anger at Correction Corp. of America’s failures in response to a 14-hour, 250-inmate protest at their for-profit Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Ohio. But any critique that does not discuss the actual protest and its context is missing the point.
Inmates appear to have reached a breaking point in their tolerance for poor living conditions at NEOCC, and given CCA’s alarming track record at the facility, we should be paying close attention:
CCA first operated a for-profit prison in Ohio when it opened NEOCC in 1997. In its first 14 months of operation, the facility experienced 13 stabbings, two murders, and six escapes. The city of Youngstown eventually filed a lawsuit against CCA on behalf of the prisoners. Even after those tragedies, CCA still operates the prison today.
These inmates knew they would be risking severe punishment and retaliation for their decision to disobey orders to return to their cells. They knew this action could provoke violence from militarized guards, or a possible stint in solitary. They knew they could lose access to their families and communities through a punitive reduction in visiting hours and phone calls.
Still, in light of these potential consequences, between 250 and 400 of them decided it was still worth doing for 14 whole hours. Even as guards began preparing chemical munitions and setting up command posts to confront a peaceful demonstration, the prisoners refused to back down.
CCA should have been completely transparent about the protest from the beginning, but instead attempted to keep the situation under wraps. After all, it doesn’t make CCA look good for there to be allegations of mistreatment and mismanagement, nor when inmates are disobeying commands in order to protest about them. Continue reading
Ohio State Rep. Bob Hagan continues to push Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for answers about its handling of a recent incident at the for-profit Northeast Ohio Correctional Center (NEOCC) in which 248 prisoners waged a 14-hour nonviolent protest against their treatment and conditions.
After he was denied entry in the hours after the August 12th protest, Hagan was invited back to the prison last Friday for a tour. He was also given the opportunity to evaluate security camera footage and speak with some of the prisoners involved.
WKBN.com reports that Rep. Hagan was told there are three main issues concerning inmates: health care, food quality and commissary prices. Continue reading
The Youngstown Vindicator has more details on the August 12th inmate protest at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center — a for-profit immigrant prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America.
CCA had originally claimed it was a minor incident involving a few prisoners complaining about food and living conditions. But according to the Vindicator, which based their story off an incident report provided by CCA, this was a 14-hour peaceful protest by mostly Dominican prisoners about many more grievances. Around 250 prisoners refused to return to their cells.
The demonstration ended after militarized corrections officials began threatening violence, at which point the protesters relented, volunteering to return to their cells and speak privately with the warden at a later time. Continue reading
Update: WYTV reports “State Representative Bob Hagan said he is calling for a full review of the facility by the Ohio Corrections Institute Inspection Committee after he was denied access Wednesday to the prison to meet with inmates to hear their grievances.”
When I first read that CCA’s private prison in Youngstown, Ohio was on lockdown last night, the few news outlets that reported the story had specifically deemed the situation there a ‘riot.’ I chose WYTV’s report, though, because it contained one interesting detail: the family of one of the prisoners had been told they were refusing to return to their cells to protest poor food quality and mistreatment by guards at the facility.
Today we have confirmation from Ohio State Representative Robert Hagan that what happened at the Northeast Ohio Correction Center (NEOCC) yesterday was, in fact, not a riot. It was an act of resistance, and it ended overnight with prisoners peacefully returning to their cells.