US Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, released the results of an inquiry that found a “culture of violence” against teen inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island. Bharara said, “Rikers Island is a broken institution.” The report found that teens are not adequately protected against violence from other inmates or staff, the Department of Justice reported on Monday.
Bharara said, “There is a pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.” The findings were the result of a two-year investigation by his office into the treatment of inmates ages 16 to 18, “most of whom have not yet been convicted of a crime, and about half of whome have been diagnosed with a mental illness.”
He said teens are subjected to “a place where brute force is the first impulse rather than the last.”
Correction officers cover for each other and lied on reports, despite surveillance video and medical evidence directly contradicting their claims, the report states. The investigation also found that more than 30 percent of the time, surveillance footage that should have captured altercations, mysteriously disappear.
Key findings from DOJ’s Rikers Island investigation:
- In FY 2012, there were 517 reported staff use of force incidents in an average daily adolescent population of 791 in the Robert N. Davoren Center and Eric M. Taylor Center, the two facilities that house the most adolescents. These incidents resulted in 1,059 injuries.
- In FY 2013, there were 565 reported staff use of force incidents in an average daily population at these same two facilities of 682, resulting in 1,057 injuries.
- In FY 2013, there were 845 reported inmate-on-inmate fights involving adolescents in the RNDC and EMTC. This marked an increase from the 795 reported fights in FY 2012.
- During the period April 2012 through April 2013, adolescents sustained a total of 754 visible injuries, according to DOHMH data.
- Adolescents in RNDC and EMTC sustained a total of 96 suspected fractures from September 2011 through August 2012, according to DOHMH data.
- In FY 2013, adolescents were taken to get emergency medical services 459 times.
- In FY 2013, there were 1,118 emergency alarms in the RNDC and EMTC adolescent housing areas, or on average more than three alarms each day.
The investigation found that force is used against teen inmates at a shocking rate and “violent inmate-on-inmate fights and assaults are commonplace.” Those fights have resulted in a large number of serious injured. The DOJ also found correction officers resort to “headshots, meaning blows to an inmate’s head or facial area, too frequently.”
Correction commissioner Joe Ponte said, “since joining the Department of Correction in April, I have made it clear that excessive use of force, unnecessary or unwarranted use of punitive segregation and corruption of any kind are absolutely unacceptable, and will not be tolerated under my watch.” He also said he was committed to correcting these problems. The DOJ’s report was sent to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. This is another black mark on the city’s law enforcement community.