Across the bridge, beyond 19th Avenue and Hazen Street, in Queens, is the prison of Rikers Island. A wall on the corner where the prison begins, with the name of the infamous prison, and the phrase “New York’s most audacious”, realize that you are entering the grounds of the largest prison in the City: 5,628 prisoners behind barssome in shared dormitories, others in individual cells and others in dungeons, live there.
Outside, that 167-hectare prison, with multiple pavilions, located between the East River and the counties of Queens and the Bronx, which started operating in 1932, resounds, making headlines, or in the midst of protests about what happens inside there and comes to light. Also, for what former inmates, politicians, defenders and activists who have seen “horrors” with their eyes, denounce even with photos, and what presumably remains behind bars.
They call Rikers Island “the prison of horror”, “hell”, “the prison of terror”. Documented reports on abuses, acts of violence against prisoners and against guards, which have occurred for decades, make, according to inmates who have passed through there, that the nicknames “remain small”.
The recent death of Latino inmate Michael López, 34, in the “Anna M. Kross Center” male pavilion, allegedly due to a fentanyl overdose, once again put the spotlight on Rikers. A week earlier, another prisoner, aged 31, also died, suspected of a drug overdose, four days after the mayor himself, Eric Adams visited Rikers Island and a month after a federal judge upheld the municipal plan to get Rikers out of the crisis, which seeks to implement reforms that guarantee safety and improve infrastructure and rehabilitation work.
“We are doing everything in our power to keep people safe and prevent further loss. Any death in custody is intolerable,” said the New York City Commissioner of Corrections. louis molinareferring to recent deaths, which bring to 10 the number (activists speak of 11) of inmates who have lost their lives in prison custody so far in 2022, almost 60% more than the total 16 deaths that were reported last year.
Drug overdose deaths show that prohibited substances enter the prison. The warning posted at the entrance of the jail in a large notice, bordered by the leaves of a tree, which reads the prohibition of “drugs, including illegal narcotics and non-prescription drugs”, seems not to be followed to the letter. The Department of Corrections itself admits that “during the pandemic, when visits were suspended, “there was a huge increase in the amount of drug smuggling that arrived by mail, once the visits were suspended”, just as the seizures increased.
Despite the incessant complaints and the urgent call for the prison to be closed immediately, and not to continue giving waiting measures until 2026 or 2027, as suggested by the plan to end the prison when the prison population is expected to has been reduced to its minimum level and reassigned to smaller prisons in various parts of the Big Apple, prison authorities insist that things are improving in Rikers.
And as a way of presenting part of the progress they have been making behind bars in that prison complex, where 1,649 inmates are Latino, the Department of Corrections allowed the entry of The NY Journal to the facilities of the women’s pavilion Rose M. Singer Center.
The facilities, which house 323 prisoners, located in two communal dormitories with 50 inmates each, two special areas with 48 inmates in individual cells and another special area for inmates considered “more aggressive”, have been transformed with a more human and more social, where “the well-being of the inmates and staff are the priority,” according to Commissioner Molina.
During the tour, Molina showed clean and comfortable spaces that he said provide alternative services to inmates, 91 of them Hispanic, and 6 pregnant womensuch as the dental area, the medicine delivery service, the library, which is open every Friday, and a boutique, where selected inmates can go to choose clothes that are kept until the day of their release.
One of the larger locations is the baby care space, where inmates giving birth are allows them to have their babies with them until they are 1 year old. “Then children are placed with relatives, or in the worst case scenario with Children’s Services. But if we see that an inmate has the necessary elements to take care of her baby, we can leave them up to two years in her custody, ”says Molina, who explained that currently there is only one mother with her two-month-old baby in the penalty. Transgender inmates are also held in these facilities.
In that same pavilion, it was where the 31-year-old inmate Mary Yehudah died on May 18, allegedly from a drug overdose and where a transgender inmate sexually abused another 33-year-old inmate in the bathrooms, when she had just taken a shower.
The Commissioner of Corrections, who received the position just over six months ago, admits the facts that have been recorded, knows that he cannot cover the sun with one finger, recognizes that there is much to be done to Rikers Island out of crisisbut insists that outside the prison it must be recognized that in the midst of the difficulties that prison means, there are advances that no one can ignore.
Molina is clear that the current photograph that everyone sees in Rikers It is the result of decades of mismanagement.but gives his word that his administration and the prison officials under his command are committed to the task of achieving further improvements, for which he considers “unfair” the attacks that indicate that this prison is still in intensive care without showing any sign of Recovery.
In addition to the programs available to inmates, the confiscation of more than 2,700 weapons and more than 400 drug-related itemsthe constant reduction of cuts and stabbings by more than 40%, 30% less in attacks on staff and 40% in improvements in the attendance at work of prison guards to their work, have made considerable changes.
Likewise, more than 1,400 disciplinary cases between guards that have been lifted, they show the commitment of the current administration, according to the DOC, to hold jailers accountable for the faults they commit, to the point that several of them have included dismissals.
The director of guardians, FloydPhipps, who has worked on Rikers Island for 27 years, also admits that although it is evident that a prison is not hunky-dory, since it represents challenges every day, it is time to start looking at that establishment with a fairer lens.
“Prisons are necessary and we have many challenges here, but to say that this is the island of horror is not only not true but also does not honor the truth. those comments are unfair. We always try to do the best we can”, comments the official, who acknowledges that one of the main problems that the prison represents has to do with the population with mental conditions, who could be better off in other types of non-prison facilities.
And it is precisely this that is one of the great challenges that even guards say the prison has, since they state that if the system were redesigned and other types of facilities were created for those who suffer from mental issues, the crisis would be solved faster. According to the Department of Corrections, more than 50% of prison inmates have mental conditions, and in the case of women detainees, the figure is more overwhelming, since 273 inmates of the Rose M. Singer Center pavilion, that is, 84%, receive mental health services.
And contrary to the improvements that the prison authorities presume have occurred this year in Rikers, activists from organizations that insist that the prison be closed immediately, before there are more deaths and “more lives damaged”, affirm that the panorama in that penalty is getting worse.
This is how he denounces it Angel Tuerosof the organization Freedom Schedule, who said he did not believe in the alleged progress that the current municipal administration intends to show.
“To say that things are better at Rikers, when we’ve had 11 dead inmates there this year, is a tall tale. how dare they say that, when the reports themselves, which are public, continue to show human rights violations in all senses, with a decaying infrastructure, overcrowding of 10 or 15 prisoners in adequate spaces for 4 people. It is something that they cannot deny because there are even photos of it,” says the activist.
Tueros, who was imprisoned on Rikers Island, added that pretending to show physical units as progress is incoherent, and stated that if the Department of Corrections (DOC) wanted to be truly transparent about what happens inside the prison, it should allow inmates to They will speak and not only the officials, who will only “show the best face” of the prison.
“Rikers has gone from bad to worse. I was detained there in 1994 and directly experienced the cruelty and the culture of violence that prevails to this day. It is cheeky that they talk about improvements in a place that isolates people from their communities and puts families who have not committed crimes in humiliating processes,” said the former inmate, while denouncing that corruption reigns in Rikers, even under the approval of the guard, without real measures being taken to put an end to it.
“As it is possible that in the pandemic, when visits were suspended, the transfer of drugs there increased. It is evident that the drug continues to enter and there must be guards involved who do not do anything to them“, Warned Tueros. “Furthermore, the guards are trained to see the inmates as if they were enemies, something contrary to the presumption of innocence, because it should be noted that Rikers is not made for convicted prisoners but for people who have not yet had a trial and who have not been found guilty.”
Despite the criticism, the activist stated that blaming Commissioner Molina for what is happening today in Rikers would be unfair, since the official had already received “a prison in crisis,” but urged the Adams Administration to close the prison sooner than later. outlined in the closure plan.
“That prison no longer fixes anyone and the Commissioner does not have magical powers to fix a violation of years. His responsibility is only for the months he has been there, because the culture is already very strong, as is the practical philosophy of treating human beings violently without addressing the underlying problems, and the fact is that the majority who arrive there do so because in their communities are not invested,” said the former Rikers inmate. “Justice is needed in our communities, investment, not spending on keeping people imprisoned. To say that things are changing by showing a boutique for inmates, that is nothing. You have to invest in poor neighborhoods, education, access to mental health, counseling and programs.”
Redmond Haskinsassociation spokesperson Legal Aid Society, He showed himself in the same line, and went even further, expressing zero confidence that the current Administration is capable of handling the prison.
“Regular deaths have become the status quo at the Department of Corrections. The failure of the Adams administration to take immediate and bold action further demonstrates that they cannot be trusted to run the prisons another day and the appointment of a trustee is still necessaryHaskins said. “While these issues are addressed in the court system, Mayor Adams and Commissioner Molina must declare that their own prison system is patently unsafe and join our call for the total decarceration of these facilities.”
The Reverend Sharon White-Harriganexecutive director of the Women’s Community Justice Association, who leads the campaign #BeyondRosieshighlighted that especially in the case of female prisoners, from Rikers, it is not true to speak of progress.
“Just a few weeks ago, Mary Yehudah, 31, died at the Rose M. Singer Center in Rikers. There is no progress for women and gender-expansive people, who are far from their families and communities and are not getting the real progress that is decarceration.”assured the reverend.
“Our recent report with the Lippman Commission shows that almost 70 percent of the (inmates) who are there are able to return to our communities, and a Women’s Justice Center in Harlem for the small number who need higher levels of security and attention”.
Rikers Island Jail in numbers
- $556,000 a year is worth the City to have each prisoner in Rikers
- 5,654 is the current average inmate population
- 50% of the total have mental conditions
- 1,649 inmates are Latino
- 10 inmates have died at Rikers so far in 2022
- 16 prisoners died last year
- 31% of all Rikers inmates are Hispanic
- 617 Latino prisoners are between 20 and 29 years old
- 510 Hispanic inmates are between 30 and 39 years old
- 363 Latino inmates are between 40 and 49 years old
- 147 Hispanic prisoners are between 50 and 59 years old
- 48 Latino inmates are between 60 and 69 years old
- 47 Latino prisoners are between 18 and 19 years old
- 4 prisoners are between 70 and 79 years old
Rikers Rose M. Singer Center Women’s Pavilion Facts
- 323 inmates are in the women’s pavilion Rose M. Singer Center
- 273 inmates there, 84% of all prisoners, receive mental health services
- 91 of the inmates there are Latina
- 53 of the inmates in that Rikers Island pavilion have been there for more than a year
- 6 female prisoners are pregnant
- 1 has her two-month-old baby with her in prison
- 1 prisoner died this year there, apparently from an overdose
- 1,500 social, medical and support workers work at Rikers
- 337 wardens work at the Rose M. Singer Center women’s unit
- 194 of the inmates on that ward received dental appointments through March
- 491 complete medical appointments had the interns in March of 682 scheduled
Achievements manifested by the current administration of Rikers Island this 2022
- More than 2700 weapons have been confiscated avoiding violent acts
- 400 drug-related items have been seized during the searches
- Cuts and stabbings have decreased by more than 40%
- 30% less in attacks on staff
- 40% in improvements in attendance at work of prison guards to their work
- People in detention are no longer housed for gang affiliation, a tactic that has decreased violence
- In February, a Violence Reduction Plan was implemented at the Robert N. Davoren Center (RNDC) where young adults are housed
- More than 1,400 disciplinary cases have been filed between guards, many of which included dismissal for medical incompetence, absences without leave and other issues.
- 298 cases related to medical incompetence were submitted to OATH for adjudication
- Department of Education (East River Academy -ERA): Is an alternative high school and a program of the New York City Department of Education, which provides high school instruction and related services for students ages 18-24 and the High School Completion (TASC), high school equivalent preparation offered to anyone 18 years of age or older.
- Columbia University College Course: This is a credit-bearing college course, usually in writing. Upon completion of the program, participants are eligible for a certificate.
- Law Library: The Law Library services provide the population with access to properly stocked books, stocked with certain necessary legal periodicals, and staffed with trained law staff to assist with legal research and legal document preparation.
- Counseling and Social Services: Counselors offer individualized counseling that addresses anger issues, restorative justice, goal setting, youth communication, interpersonal skills, trauma, and substance use.
- Horticultural Society of New York Program: Provides hands-on opportunities to develop skills in creating and nurturing living things, collaborative activities that foster positive outcomes and benefits for them as a community, trains them for employment in landscaping, parks, farms, green roofs, and planting and garden maintenance, and serves to channel your energy into productive physical work.
- Greenhope Program: This initiative specializes in serving women involved in justice, and currently offers gender-sensitive in-prison classes on job readiness, anger management, financial literacy, parenting, and other topics.
- Women’s Correctional Association Reentry Program: Funded by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), this reentry program offers women individualized planning and post-release assistance, including job placement, training, housing and other forms of support.
- Housing Works: Funded by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ), this reentry program offers women and LGBTQ+ individuals assistance with release planning and post-release services.
Programs available at Rikers Island for interns