Ongoing brutality, isolation, and civil rights violations have added urgency to continued calls by opponents of New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex to shut the facility down.
The latest development occurred last Monday when acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon Kim announced the arrest of Rikers Island guard Rodiny Calypso for violating an inmate’s constitutional rights after handcuffing and brutally beating him in a solitary confinement shower in 2014. The incident was caught on video. Calypso could face up to 30 years in federal prison if convicted, DNAinfo reported.
On Saturday, The Associated Press reported that at least 35 Rikers Island staff members have faced criminal charges in the past three years at the 10-jail complex on New York’s East River. Thirteen of those employees were charged with assault or attempted assault. The AP also noted that federal prosecutors have charged “more than a half dozen Rikers guards with violating inmates’ civil rights through excessive force, smuggling drugs and other charges since 2014.”
Those incidents occurred despite a 2015 lawsuit settlement that added thousands of surveillance cameras, stricter use-of-force policies and better federal oversight, AP added. An independent commission is studying whether to shut Rikers down as part of recommendations to the city over criminal justice reform.
Last year, JustLeadershipUSA and other advocacy groups started the #CLOSErikers campaign to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio to close Rikers. At least 125 city organizations are backing the campaign, which states that Rikers Island “violates New Yorkers’ belief in equality, humanity, and fairness.”
The campaign notes that Rikers’ 10 jails hold about 8,000 inmates, over 80% of whom are waiting for their cases to be tried.
A recent #CLOSErikers report states:
For generations, the jails on Rikers have been characterized by geographic isolation, poor conditions, inadequate services, overcrowding and violence. The isolation of Rikers reduces the quality of life for the justice involved, correction officers and civilian staff, and limits access to a range of services for NYC’s most vulnerable. The island’s isolation has allowed a toxic culture to take hold since its very inception.
Unlike De Blasio, NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo is an outspoken critic of Rikers Island, calling it “one of these long-term injustices and abuses that every New Yorker should be outraged about,” the AP noted. “The situation is intolerable,” he added.