The horrors of life inside Rikers Island are well-documented—and many of the people who are subjected to them have never been convicted of a crime. A week after the suicide of Kalief Browder, the New York Post reports on a man who has spent the last six years and eight months at Rikers awaiting trial.
A Rikers Island corrections officer assigned to prisoners accused of serious violent crimes claims she was sexually assaulted by an inmate and was threatened with termination for fighting off his advances. “He violated me,” Rikers corrections officer Samantha Moscoso told ABC New York. “And I screamed and I screamed for him to let go, for him to get off, for him to let go, for him to stop.”
Violence, inflicted by guards and among prisoners, is simply part of the fabric of daily life at Rikers Island. Thanks to tireless reporting by the likes of Michael Winerip and Michael Schwartz at the New York Times, we know this, but we know it in an abstract sense—told through broad statistics and quoted anecdotes. Here’s what it actually looks like.
In June, a Manhattan Detention Complex inmate named Rudolph Richardson was using the bathroom in his cell when a guard shut an electronic door on his left middle finger, partially severing it. Richardson sought medical attention, which he found in the form of a doctor who ordered him to throw his own finger in the trash, according to a lawsuit.
On Saturday, a group of inmates at Rikers Island helped tear down a plexiglass barrier to defend a female correction officer who was being sexually assaulted by another inmate, the New York Daily News reports. Raleek Young, above, is serving five to 10 years for raping a 13-year-old girl, and was hit with additional charges regarding the guard assault on Monday.
Over the past several months, as the culture of brutality at Rikers Island has become harder and harder to ignore, New York's corrections department has gestured toward reform. Incompetent officials resigning, thuggish guards punished when in the past they'd be given high fives and told to keep their mouths shut. We know there's a problem, officials are saying, but we're making it better. Don't believe them.
Budnarine Behari, a Rikers Island captain who oversaw the April 2012 hogtying and beating of a mentally ill inmate who had complained about not receiving a baloney sandwich, was fired this week along with five other officers at the prison. Great. But before he was dismissed, Behari had the opportunity to administer equally sadistic attacks on at least two other prisoners. What the hell took so long?
Martin Horn, the former City Department of Correction Commissioner, knows how we can fix Rikers. "Jails should be close to the communities they serve and the courthouses where prisoners' cases are heard," he says. "It requires political courage for the city to address these issues." Courage and, uh, tax dollars.