During the next four weeks, prisonpath.com will discuss conditions in our prisons and jails. This posting examines New York City’s Riker’s violence against mentally ill inmates. The New York Times has published information from a secret internal study by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene which revealed that a substantial number of inmates seriously injured by correctional officers were already diagnosed with mental illnesses. In 2013, 129 inmates received “serious injuries” from incidents involving jail guards. Almost eighty percent of the seriously injured inmates were diagnosed by the jail’s medical staff with mental illnesses.
One documented altercation in 2013 from the state’s report involved inmate – Jose Bautista. He was charged with a misdemeanor arising from a family argument. Mr. Bautista was unable to pay the $250 bail and was incarcerated on Rikers Island. He tried to commit suicide by hanging himself with his underwear. Four guards cut him down and handcuffed him instead of calling medical personal. New York City investigators discovered that the correctional officers severely beat Bautista while he was on the floor. Mr. Bautista’s bowel was perforated and he required emergency surgery.
Another incident involved inmate Andre Lane who was locked in a solitary confinement cell. He was angry at the guards for not giving dinner to him. He threw water or urine at them. Correctional officers handcuffed Mr. Lane to a gurney and brought him to a medical clinic examination room in the jail that was not within view of the jail video cameras. Members of the medical staff begged the guards to stop beating him. The cabinets and walls in the examination room were covered with Mr. Lane’s blood.
Brutal attacks on inmates with mental health issues were and are frequent in Rikers. The City’s report revealed that correctional officers are not trained appropriately to handle inmates with mental illness issues. The officers on numerous occasions used overwhelming force for even minor responses from inmates. Riker’s is the second largest jail in the United States. Inmates with mental illnesses are almost forty percent of the inmates at Rikers. Sadly, this treatment of inmates with mental illnesses is common in other jails and prisons in the United States.