An independent monitoring group says staff at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex “relish confrontation” with inmates. The head of the corrections officers union disagrees, saying guards should be “getting a medal from the monitor, as opposed to saying there’s excessive use of force.”
New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex maintains a “culture of violence” among both inmates and staff, despite efforts to improve conditions at the storied correctional facility, says a court-mandated study reported by NPR. The report said staff on the island “relish confrontation” with inmates, rather than avoid it. It described incidents such as a senior corrections officer using pepper spray on an inmate who was in restraints, and other incidents of unnecessarily kicking and stomping inmates. Filed by an independent monitoring group, the report fueled new calls to shut down the jail complex because of its level of violence. Rikers, a 400-acre island in the East River, is a warren of 10 facilities managed by the New York City Department of Correction.
The majority of the 9,300 held at Rikers’ jail facilities are awaiting trial; the rest are serving short sentences for low-level offenses. Although overall inmate-on-inmate violence is down, the overall rate of use of force by correction officers has slightly increased. Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, Inc. rejects the report, saying the findings don’t reflect the reality of what happens at the facilities. With the high level of violence on Rikers Island and dangerous work conditions for correction officers, Husamudeen says they should be “getting a medal from the monitor, as opposed to saying there’s excessive use of force.”