The Rikers Island facilities has ten jails which holds offenders waiting trial. The defendants are there because they cannot afford bail or were not given bail by the court. The other inmates at Rikers are doing sentences less than 12 months or are waiting transfer to another facility. The average inmate population on any given day is about 14,000. The rally on November 8th was composed of reformers, family members of inmates, and former inmates of Rikers.
The rally was organized to protest the inhumane conditions at the jails. There have been numerous reports of inmates abuse, deaths, and corruption at the gigantic complex. 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.
Brutal attacks on inmates with mental health issues were and are frequent in Rikers. The City’s report revealed that correctional officers were not trained appropriately to handle inmates with mental illness issues. The officers on numerous occasions used overwhelming force for even minor responses from inmates.
Jerome Murdough, a 56 year old former U.S. Marine was arrested in New York City for trespassing. He was looking for a warm place to sleep at a public housing development. He was incarcerated at Rikers Island on a $2500 bail. On February 14th, he was found dead in his jail cell. The cell was overheated to 100 degrees or more due to faulty heating equipment.
Mr. Murdough was on anti-psychotic and anti-seizure medication which made him more susceptible to dehydration and heat stroke. He had been placed on suicide watch and the correctional officers were supposed to check him every 15 minutes. An anonymous official stated, “He was basically baked to death.”
It is time to reform Rikers—NOW. In the 19th century, Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great writer, stated, “You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.”
By: Bradley Schwartz
Founder of prisonpath.com