NYC sued for violence against young inmates at Rikers Island jail

Federal prosecutors sued New York City on Thursday, Dec. 18, as the city has allegedly not acted fast enough in reforming Rikers Island jail, particularly in how it deals with adolescent inmates.

In a report by the Justice Department, findings from a 2 ½ -year investigation conducted from 2011 to 2013 revealed there was a “deep-seated culture of violence” against young offenders at the jail complex.

The report also found that 44 percent of young inmates between the ages of 16 and 18 who have been at Rikers – which has a population of 11,000 – since October 2012, have experienced some physical inflicted by corrections officers at least once.

On Wednesday, Dec. 17, New Yorck City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the end of solitary confinement for offenders aged 16 and 17 years old. However, ending the practice is just one out of 73 recommendations made by federal prosecutors to reduce violence and improve accountability.

The lawsuit describes the atmosphere at Rikers is one where jail guards yell “stop resisting” while beating inmates and pressuring them not to report these incidents, among other things.

“To date, defendants have failed to take sufficient and effective measures to remedy these deficiencies,” the suit said.

Although negotiations with the city went on for four months, US Attorney General Erick Holder and Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara wrote that federal prosecutors have failed “to reach agreement as to lasting, verifiable, and enforceable reforms.”

The mayor’s office and city attorneys did not respond to emails from the Associated Press requesting for comment.

The suit also states that the reform measures do not affect offenders aged 18. From September to November, there were a reported 71 use-of-force incidents against 18-year-olds in areas lacking surveillance cameras, and 40 of these individuals were held in solitary confinement, according to Associated Press.

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

While the New York jail did not address many recommendations from prosecutors, De Blasio and New York City Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte praised some changes made, including reducing solitary sentences to 30 days instead of 90 and obtaining funds for surveillance cameras to be added throughout the next two years.

(With reports from Associated Press and RT) 

(NYNJ December 19-25, 2014 Sec. A pg.1)

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