Teenage inmates endure 'culture of violence' at Rikers Island prison

A 'pervasive climate of fear exists' in New York detention centre, investigation finds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 August, 2014, 9:25pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 3:29am


A federal civil rights investigation has concluded that adolescent male inmates at Rikers Island endured a "culture of violence" in one of New York's most historic and congested detention centres, the US attorney in Manhattan announced.

The findings highlighted more than a dozen brutality cases, including guards beating young prisoners with radios, batons and broomsticks, slamming them into walls and often using aggression in isolated corners away from surveillance cameras.

"Simply put, Rikers is a dangerous place for adolescents and a pervasive climate of fear exists," according to a report released on Monday by Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The findings documented 1,050 cases of young prisoners injured during each of the last two years. In nearly half of last year's incidents, the inmate required emergency medical care.

Investigators said corrections officers resorted to "headshots" against juveniles, hit youths in the head or face "too frequently", struck them as "punishment or retribution", and created specialised response teams that became "particularly brutal". A significant number of the youths were pretrial detainees with severe mental health issues.

Adolescent inmates were held in solitary "for weeks and sometimes months at a time", with up to 20 per cent of the young prisoners in segregation on any given day last year, the report found.

"Rikers Island is a broken institution," Bharara said. "It is a place where brute force is the first impulse rather than the last resort, where verbal insults are repaid with physical injuries, where beatings are routine while accountability is rare."

He said that at the three Rikers Island facilities that housed adolescent males, "a culture of violence endures even while a code of silence prevails".

A separate 79-page report said a "pattern and practice of excessive force and violence" violated the constitutional rights of teenage male inmates. The findings were forwarded to Mayor Bill de Blasio and other top city officials, along with a litany of recommendations for cleaning up the juvenile section of the city's main prison complex, located on an island in the East River.

The mayor has pledged to improve conditions at the prison. Earlier this year, he brought in a reform-minded corrections supervisor to run the complex.