New York- A report released by the Department Of Justice on Monday detailed the results of an investigation surrounding the practices of corrections officers regarding treatment of adolescent inmates at Rikers Island. The report, focused on events between 2011 and 2013, concluded that corrections officers regularly violated the constitutional rights of teenage prisoners by consistently and swiftly resorting to violence in their handlings with them. New York and North Carolina are the only two states that automatically charge teens 16 and older as adults.
Not only did the report criticize the liberal use of force on the teens- nearly 44% of the youth were subjected to use of force by the officers- it also exposed the fact that many investigations into such incidents were corrupted or inadequate. It was found that corrections officers often used a phrase- “hold it down”- to warn inmates against reporting abuse.
In addition to excessive violence from the corrections officers, it was found that the they were also using “punitive segregation”- solitary confinement as punishment- far too often and for long periods of time, sometimes subjecting inmates to months of segregation.
Many of the teen inmates at Rikers suffer from mental health issues; according to the report, in the year of 2013 51% of the incarcerated youth were diagnosed with mental illnesses.
The report also showed a startling number of incidents of inmates fighting one another; in 2013, there were 845 reports of inmate-on-inmate fights within two facilities that hold most of the youth inmates. In 2012, there were 795 reports.
In a press release, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara pointed out that many of the inmates are awaiting trial and have not yet been proven guilty of committing crimes. “As our investigation has shown, for adolescents, Rikers Island is a broken institution. It is a place where brute force is the first impulse rather than the last resort; where verbal insults are repaid with physical injuries; where beatings are routine while accountability is rare; and where a culture of violence endures even while a code of silence prevails. The adolescents in Rikers are walled off from the public, but they are not walled off from the Constitution. Indeed most of these young men are pre-trial detainees who are innocent until proven guilty, but whether they are pre-trial or convicted, they are entitled to be detained safely and in accordance with their Constitutional rights – not consigned to a corrections crucible that seems more inspired by Lord of the Flies than any legitimate philosophy of humane detention,” read the release.
The report showed multiple examples of brutal and unnecessary force on the inmates used by New York City’s Department of Corrections, and also pointed out failures to report instances of excessive force, resulting “in a culture in which staff feel empowered to use force inappropriately, in ways that go outside the bounds of written policies, because they know they are unlikely to face any meaningful consequences.” In one detailed incident:
“The inmates and one officer were working in the trailer and got into a verbal confrontation. The officer grabbed Inmate M by his neck, slammed his face into a concrete wall, and then began to repeatedly punch him. The officer reported that he had been jumped and called for backup. Soon thereafter, several other officers, including probe team members, arrived and brutally assaulted the four inmates, punching and kicking them and striking them with radios, batons, and broomsticks. This continued for several minutes after the inmates had been subdued and handcuffed. The probe team then took the inmates to holding pens in the clinic intake area where they were handcuffed and beaten again by several DOC Gang Intelligence Unit members, who repeatedly punched and kicked them while they were handcuffed and slammed them against cell walls.”
This incident was one of several detailed in the investigation.
The report outlined several measures considered necessary to remedy the violations, including a call for more surveillance cameras, separating the teens from Rikers Island, revising the use of force policy, and implementing an environment where violence is not tolerated and the staff is held accountable for abuse. Bharara said the city has been allowed 49 days to respond.
The report is available in full here.