New Allegations of Prisoner Abuse at Rikers Island

May 16, 2012

The Village Voice recently published startling new images of inmate abuse as part of the paper’s ongoing investigation into violence at New York’s Rikers Island jail.

In 2008, the paper first published allegations that Rikers guards were staging a “fight club” for the inmates, some of whom were teenagers. Reporter Graham Rayman writes that in what was known as “the Program”:

… guards were deputizing inmates, often in the teen jail, and pitting them against one another in fights as a way to keep order and extort them for phone, food, and television privileges.

The new photos show gaping wounds to inmates’ faces from knives or beatings, and the Voice reports that “several sources, including current and retired investigators, say that the practice is very much still in place.” The paper also obtained “hundreds of internal Correction Department documents” from 2009 to 2012 that show the influence gangs have on the jail, particularly in the area where the teenagers are housed.

Jail officials say they put new controls in place after “the Program” was initially exposed to prevent it from happening again, including reducing the guard-inmate ratio and assigning officers to staff rooms where inmates spent time during the day, the article said. The Corrections Department strongly denied that “the Program” was still going on, with  Spokeswoman Sharman Stein describing the allegations as “patently false.” Stein acknowledged that bullying occurs at the prison, but said, “This is not a department that is looking the other way.”

According to the Voice, the Justice Department’s civil rights division has been investigating the violence at Rikers and investigators have subpoenaed “more than a year’s worth of incident reports in the effort.”

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