Report reveals ‘culture of violence’ against teens at Rikers Island

BY Andrew Troast  August 5, 2014 at 2:29 PM EST
File photo of the Rikers Island jail complex in New York. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

File photo of the Rikers Island jail complex in New York. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A U.S. government report released Monday describes a “deep-seated culture of violence” against teenage inmates held at Rikers Island in New York.

The two-year investigation found that the constitutional rights of male teenage inmates were routinely violated by guards who were unafraid of punishment. The report, released by the office of the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, found that guards routinely injured and abused inmates with “rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force.”

The report said teen inmates suffered 22 jaw fractures during the first six months of 2012, and sustained 239 head injuries between June 2012 and July 2013. Poor training, understaffing and inefficient management contributed toward the abuses, according to the report. It also cited a “code of silence” among the workers at the jail complex, and an ineffective system for investigating attacks by guards.

This is the latest in a series of critical revelations about the Rikers facility, which has come under scrutiny for excessive use of solitary confinement. Watch a PBS NewsHour report on that below:

Monday’s report focused primarily on the Rikers facilities that hold males aged 16-18, but it noted that problems likely exist in the seven other jails for adult men and women on Rikers Island.

Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to make necessary reforms to the New York City prison system, which holds an average 11,500 prisoners at a time, when he came into office. He has appointed reform-minded corrections official Joseph Ponte to head the system.

We’ll have more on the Rikers Island report on Tuesday’s PBS NewsHour.

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Rikers Island as a prison; it is a jail.