Rikers Island

Damage Control Threatens Change at Rikers Island

On September 29th, the New York Times reported that the New York City Department of Corrections was eliminating solitary confinement for 16 and 17-year-old inmates at Rikers.

The department claimed it would be the “first round of changes” and “solitary confinement [would] be replaced by ‘alternative options, intermediate consequences for misbehavior and steps designed to pre-empt incidents from occurring.'”

New York City Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte

New York City Department of Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte

While it’s fantastic news that these young inmates will no longer be subject to punitive segregation, the 16-17 year old age group at Rikers is a small portion of the population; only 300 of the 11,000 prisoners in the city’s jails would qualify for such leniency. The NYCDOC says there are 51 youths in solitary right now, but it’s unclear how many would see relief from this policy change.

It’s also great to hear the NYCDOC plans to replace solitary with ‘alternative options, intermediate consequences […] and steps designed to pre-empt incidents,’ however vague that may be. If it reduces the use of solitary confinement, it can’t hurt.

But I think it all misses the point: is there reason to believe that Rikers is the right environment for young people? Continue reading

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Rikers

Real Reform Won’t Come to Rikers Without the Department of Justice

If there was ever any doubt as to whether the DOJ needed to intervene in the clusterfuck on Rikers Island, this story should lay it to rest. The New York Times reports that officials at Rikers (some of whom have since been promoted) underreported violence against juvenile inmates for months and withheld key information about what happened and who was involved from US Attorney Preet Bahrara.

It’s a complex and heartbreaking story that, as the Times writes, “underscores the pervasive dysfunction of the city’s Correction Department.” I highly recommend reading the piece and taking a look at the document comparisons they provide. After reading this, I am convinced that any hope of securing safety and humane treatment for Rikers prisoners is not going to come from NYCDOC, but will have to come from the federal government, instead. Continue reading

Rikers Island

The Weak Pursuit of Accountability for Rikers Island’s ‘Culture of Brutality’

The New York Times’ reporting work on Rikers Island is starting to make some government officials squirm. But at the end of the day, emerging punishments and accountability measures seem to fall painfully short of addressing the devolving health and safety situation there.

The Times first covered the rise in assaults on civilian employees working at the facility back in May, and then followed up in July with a brutal portrayal of life for its prisoners.

Now the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that it will fine private prison healthcare provider Corizon Health Services, Inc. $75,000 — “the highest level of censure by the federal Labor Department […] for failing to protect employees from violence at the jail complex.”

Continue reading