A report released Monday by the Department of Justice has disclosed the abuse of young inmates at Rikers Island jail and perpetuating a “culture of violence.” The 2 1/2-year investigation states guards use of “rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force.” The 80-page report also states that on any given day in 2013, up to 25 percent of adolescent inmates were in solitary confinement, which sometimes lasted for months at a time.
The physical abuse of inmates and mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners are a major part of the horrific injustices at Rikers. Other problems include poor staff training, inadequate investigations, an ineffective management structure and the overuse of solitary confinement, particularly for mentally ill inmates.
For adolescents, Rikers is a “broken institution,” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District.
“It is a place where brute force is the first impulse rather than the last resort; where verbal insults are repaid with physical injuries; where beatings are routine while accountability is rare; and where a culture of violence endures even while a code of silence prevails,” Bharara said in a joint statement with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
According to the report, on an average day in 2013, Rikers housed 682 male inmates aged 16 to 18 years old, with some of which shouldn’t have been placed at Rikers in the first place. The majority are awaiting trial, either denied or unable to afford bail. “Many of the male teenage inmates are especially vulnerable because just over half of them have a mental illness,” investigators said.
For three years, Albany has had a bill to change to the criminal code regarding teen offenders, but there has been no action. New York is one of two states, the other being North Carolina, in which 16-year-olds are automatically tried as adults instead of by a juvenile justice system. This has to change.
There was no immediate comment from the city’s Department of Correction or from Mayor Bill de Blasio, to whom the report was addressed.