By John Binder Inmates have “seized near total control over entire units” at New York City’s infamous Rikers Island jail, a report details. Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has long claimed he will shutter the jail and build prisons in New York City neighborhoods to house inmates.
A New York Times report on Monday reveals the extent to which the city’s most violent inmates awaiting trial at Rikers Island are allowed to wander freely, run food distribution, and commit more crimes.
“Detainees in some buildings have seized near total control over entire units, deciding who can enter and leave them, records and interviews show,” the Times reports:
In other buildings, they have wandered in and out of staff break rooms and similarly restricted areas, with some flouting rules against smoking tobacco and marijuana. Sometimes they have answered phones that were supposed to be manned by guards. Several have stolen keys and used them to free others in custody, who went on to commit slashings and other acts of violence. [Emphasis added]
To guards, detainees and their lawyers, the most striking aspect of the current dysfunction at Rikers Island is the extent to which incarcerated people seem to run parts of the complex. [Emphasis added]
On five occasions in the past 18 months, incarcerated people who should have been confined or closely supervised were instead free to commit violent acts. [Emphasis added]
In one instance, according to the Times, an inmate was able to leave an unlocked cell and take pepper spray off a food cart, which he then used to spray staff with following a fight in June 2020. In another case, a nurse was beaten by an inmate after he was able to open a security gate.
One former inmate interviewed by the Times said he was starved for two days while at Rikers Island because a gang of inmates were controlling food distribution in his unit and would not allow him to eat. The same inmate said he watched one day as a group of inmates nearly beat to death another inmate in an area that was not being guarded.
For months, amid staffing shortages, reports have circulated that inmates had been effectively running Rikers Island. Last month, a report detailed how parties and overdoses at Rikers Island have become the norm.
De Blasio, for years, has laid out plans to shut down Rikers Island and move inmates into jails that would be built in New York City neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Residents have protested de Blasio’s plans.
Rikers Island holds nearly 5,000 inmates daily. The majority have mental health issues.