A lengthy federal investigation into the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) has revealed the systemic abuse of male teenage inmates at three juvenile detention centers on Rikers Island. This shocking abuse has resulted in an inordinate amount of physical injuries to the juveniles at the hands of the guards, not to mention the psychological repercussions that inherently come with such treatment. The inmates at the three centers, aged 16 to 18 have been victims of guards gone wild; correctional officers who have been using excessive amounts of physical violence to punish the young offenders in ways that can only be described as deviant and calculated. This “rampant use of unnecessary force” has been defined as a systemic violation of the civil rights of the juvenile inmates.
Released by the office of Preet Bharara, a U.S. attorney located in Manhattan, the 79-page graphic report details the systemic, violent abuse of the teenaged young men. This abuse included allowing inmate on inmate violence, “headshots” wherein guards hit the teens in the head and face area, guard violence that resulted in lacerations and the need for stitches and the deliberate application of such abuse in areas where video surveillance was limited.
The report also addresses what is being deemed a “code of silence” among the correctional officers. This seeming “code” appears to include an abysmal lack of ethics, which has allowed the guards to perpetuate their abuse without fear of investigation nor the risk of repercussions for their behavior. The investigation and report center on just three jails on Rikers Island, two of which house the most juvenile inmates: The Robert N. Davoren Center (RNDC) and the Eric M. Taylor Center (EMTC). However, there are indications that the problem of excessive use of force may also be occurring in the other jails on Rikers Island as well.
The investigation of incidents from 2011 to 2013 focused on three key points including whether the DOC “adequately protected adolescents from harm” from guards or other inmates, if adolescents were subject to the use of unnecessary force by guards and whether there was a heavy-handed use of “punitive segregation.” Punitive segregation in this case refers to the use of solitary confinement in a way that was egregious or excessively harmful to the inmates.
The report released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office includes statistics that clearly indicate the guards have not just gone wild, they have routinely applied excessive force against teenage inmates at Rikers Island. For example, in the fiscal year 2012, 517 “use of force” incidents in just two of the facilities resulted in 1,059 injuries. For the same two facilities, in 2013, there were 565 reported incidents resulting in 1,057 injuries and inmates required emergency medical services 459 times. Between September of 2011 and August of 2012, there were an estimated 96 bone fractures and between April of 2012 and April of 2013, there were an additional “754 visible injuries.”
Attorney Bharara has stated that the results of the investigation indicate, “Rikers Island is a broken institution.” He further states that the facilities are a place where “brute force is the first impulse rather than a last resort.” At Rikers Island, according to Bharara, the teenage inmates were in an environment where “beatings were routine while accountability is rare.” In a strong statement, Bharara said that while the teenage inmates are “walled off from the public” this does not mean that they were “walled off from the Constitution.”
Sunlight is the best disinfectant and the results of the investigation clearly expose that the guards at Rikers Island have gone wild in their excessive of force and abuse on the teen inmates. Bharara has said that although the juvenile inmates were “out of sight” they can “no longer remain out of mind.” Given Bharara’s strong sentiments regarding the abuse, it appears that a commitment to ensuring the physical and mental safekeeping of the teenage inmates in the Riker Island jails will become a priority for the New York Department of Corrections.
By Alana Marie Burke