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Scandal, Suicides, Corruption and Abuse Abound at New York Citys Rikers Island Jail

Scandal, Suicides, Corruption and Abuse Abound at New York Citys Rikers Island Jail

by Gary Hunter

When Rikers Island was purchased in 1884 it was only 87 acres. The city of New York made it a landfill and expanded it for the citys Department of Correction a fact that has piled as much garbage above the ground as beneath. Corruption on Rikers Island reaches from bottom to top and has resulted in the abuse, brutalization and deaths of countless prisoners. Rikers Island is the jail complex for New York City which holds pretrial detainees and those serving sentences of less than one year and sentenced felons awaiting transport to the state prison system. Currently holding around 14,000 prisoners, Rikers Island has held as many as 20,000 prisoners. It is one of the largest jails in the country.

Corrupt Chiefs

Dominick Labruzzi, a captain at Rikers Island juvenile jail, was charged, on January 31, 2006, with sexually assaulting several teenage boys under his custody. Several young boys, who had no contact with each other, told strikingly similar stories to investigators. Each boy described a basement to where Labruzzi would take them then fondle their genitals as he pretended to search them.

I was thinking, that wasnt right....He had me take off my pants and searched me again and told me to squat down, I dont know what he was doing behind me, said one boy.

A second youth told a similar story. He searched me and put his hands in my pocket and started touching me perversely down there...on my private parts... he told me to strip and he told me to squat down...I was thinking something was wrong here.

One Rikers investigator told reporters that all of the victims were Young Spanish kids, no facial hair, curly black hair, very innocent looking, very young looking....They all describe the same thing. The pinching of the nipple, the frisking of the hand in the pockets. In a couple of instances he interviewed them totally naked.

Other officials confirm that Labruzzis methods fell far outside the normal procedure for a strip search. As many as a dozen boys described how they were taken to a basement with a metal door. One youngster was so distraught he initially considered suicide. He eventually agreed to an interview with ABC reporter Sarah Wallace.

Sarah: Did he use a key to get in the basement?

Boy: Yes, it was a metal door...He patted me down and he searched me and he took my clothes and he touched my nipple, then my private parts.

Sarah: And then you were naked then?

Boy: Yes...he was squeezing my private parts. One question brought a flood of tears to the teen who was barely able to continue.

Sarah: He asked you for oral sex?

Boy: Yes.

Sarah: Did you feel pressure to do it?

Boy: I was scared. The Captain, he threatened me that if I told anyone, hed come back for me, one way or another. I wanted to kill myself.
Sarah: Why did you want to kill yourself?

Boy: I was frightened.

The young prisoner says he never gave in to Labruzzis request for sex. But the sheer terror and trauma drove him to the mental health clinic. It was at this point he discovered there were other victims.

Sarah: What do you think should happen to him?

Boy: I feel he should be arrested and put in jail for what he did.
Authorities agree with the boys assessment. Labruzzi was charged with 10 counts each of child endangerment, forcible touching, third degree sexual abuse, and harassment. He is currently suspended without pay and free on $30,000 bond.

Former Rikers bureau Chief Anthony Serra was sentenced to two one year terms in jail on charges of felony grand larceny and misdemeanor conflict of interest. Serra, a major player in Gov. Patakis election campaign, had originally faced a 144-count indictment. The former chief had illegally used Department of Correction employees to remodel his home then falsified payroll documents to show they were at work. Both sentences will run concurrently with an eight month federal sentence for tax evasion. Serra was convicted on the tax charge for money he failed to report while working on Gov. Patakis campaign. Serra will also be required to serve two months of house arrest, two years on parole and pay $50,000 in restitution in addition to the $25,000 he has paid already.

Robert Boccio, an agency director for the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) resigned his post in late February 2006 when the Department of Investigation (DOI) began scrutinizing inappropriate departmental practices. Boccios resignation is directly related to the August demotion of Crystal Monge the former Deputy Commissioner for Operations and Detention.

Both Boccio and Monge are accused of cooking the books in an effort to misrepresent management reports that ranged from everything to weapons and narcotics recoveries at the DJJ to falsifying the times for court appearances.

The investigation began in September 2004 when, according to one insider, DJJ has revised its data on recovered contraband, as a result of an intensive review of the systems used to calculate these statistics.
Boccios annual salary, with the DJJ, was $75, 978. Monges demotion resulted in a drop in pay from $124,811 annually to $74,118.

In 2004 Mitchell Hochhauser, a deputy warden at Rikers, was sentenced to 1-3 years in prison for his role in the theft of a Salvador Dali painting that the famous artist had donated to the prisoners of the jail during a visit in 1965. Several other guards and employees were charged and convicted in the theft.

The article following this story about the absolute corruption of former New York jail chief Bernard Kerik shows that corruption within the New York City Department of Corruption truly begins at the top. A book could easily be written about the depth and breadth of high level corruption at Rikers Island in the past 20 years. Moreover, assorted criminal investigations are far from complete.


Rikers prison, Anna M. Kross Center, became an arena of abuse on October 5, 2005. It initially began as a clash between a guard and a prisoner when Kenneth Robinson slashed guard Alan Gold in the face with a sharpened watch face. Robinson fled but, with nowhere to run, he was soon apprehended. It could have and should have ended there but it didnt.

Guards were intent on sending a message. Dozens of infuriated guards, dressed in riot gear and armed with batons, stormed the cellblocks bent on revenge.

Whos in charge of this house? a guard screamed at Michael LoMonaco as he punched him repeatedly.

You are, you are! LoMonaco screamed back but it did not stop the beatings.

LoMonaco, a mental health patient, was among dozens of prisoners who were beaten as they lay handcuffed on their bunks. Guard Joseph Collins was captured on video beating prisoner Sequan Prude in the face.

They kicked him in the back and the ribs, said his grandmother Lottie Prude, when she saw him. But his face. Oh God. I didnt want him to see me crying. I couldnt help it.

Kareem Williams was also beaten repeatedly by guards. His mother, Carolyn Williams, visited Kareem three days later. Kareem had a black eye and a list of 16 victims which he managed to pass to his mother. More than a dozen prisoners were injured.

The October incident only brought to a head a sore that has been festering at Rikers for years. A lawsuit filed in 2002, in behalf of over 20 prisoners, was settled on February 28, 2006 as the city agreed to pay $2.2 million to prisoners victimized by jail guards. Among the most notable victims were Shawn Davis who was blinded in one eye, Eric Richards received a ruptured eardrum and Charles Paige suffered a fractured cheekbone. [See accompanying article for details.]

The very first blow was to my face, said Paige. He was handcuffed behind his back at the time.

Paige, a 46-year old Muslim was undergoing a cell search on December 4, 2001 when a Rikers guard stepped on his prayer rug. When Paige protested, he was escorted to another room. When he returned to his cell, after the search, two of his holy books were submerged in the toilet.
Paige began banging on the window of the guard picket. The 130-pound Paige was then pepper sprayed, handcuffed and beaten. At one point he was held from behind by one guard and punched in the face by another. When it was over Paiges face was fractured just below his right eye.

Shawn Davis is schizophrenic, easily excitable and now serving time in state prison in Beacon, New York. When he could not obtain his medication Davis threw a plastic chair. Davis was quickly subdued by guards, handcuffed behind his back and dragged down the hallway to his destination. Near the end of the incident one guard punched Davis in the face another kicked him in the temple.

Both eyes just shut down, said Davis. Despite an emergency operation Davis is now permanently blind in his left eye.

The guards who delivered the blows reported that they were defending themselves. A superficial scratch to the left eyebrow was the only injury reported by any of the guards.

Eric Richards was punched in the face and slammed head first into some cell bars when he objected to a strip search in the Queens courthouse. The scuffle left Richards deaf in his right ear and partially blind in one eye.
When asked about departmental policy regarding head shots Corrections Commissioner Martin F. Horn jokingly replied, Is that a drink?
Horns lighthearted attitude toward the violence inflicted on prisoners is reflected in the actions of his employees. Between January 1, 2000 and August 1, 2003 Rikers Island prisoners produced reports of head injuries to 738 prisoners. This figure, among others, are what initiated the recently settled suit which was brought by the Legal Aid Society and the law firms of Sullivan and Cromwell and Emerey, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady. Plaintiffs showed that jail guards often eschew more humane methods of control in favor of head strikes and face blows.

Legal Aid attorney Jonathan Chasan said, Force is not a foreign concept in a prison...[but] they should be able to restrain without this level of injuries.

Research by attorney Steve J. Martin revealed that from January 2000 to August 2003 183 prisoners suffered either facial fractures, broken teeth or required stitches to the face. Martin also found that in April 2003, 42 serious incidents resulted in 13 head strikes. Separate research showed 46 head strikes from January to October 2004. Martin says it is clear evidence of routine use of hard impact strikes to the head in New York City jails. This case was recently settled and is reported in the accompanying article. This is the second major use of force class action suit that the NY DOC has settled in the past ten years.

The most recent incident at the Anna M. Kross Center has resulted in a $1 million lawsuit now leveled at the DOC. It names fourteen prisoners who allege they were brutally beaten by guards while they lay handcuffed on their bunks.

They said: F___ them all and started swinging, remembers prisoner Jason Lewis. They were yelling If yall hurt one of ours, well hurt five of you.

Attorney Leo Glickman said the guards also threatened them with further violence if they saw a doctor for their injuries. Glickman represents 9 of the 14 prisoners.

Three guards have been arrested so far and several others are under investigation in connection with the beatings. Joseph Collins was captured on video tape punching Sequan Prude in the face. He faces charges of assault, harassment, official misconduct and a felony charge of filing a false report.
Nicholas Zito attempted to disable the security camera that captured Collins on tape. Zito was charged with official misconduct which carries up to a year in jail.

Captain Anastasia Henderson witnessed the beatings but failed to mention them in an official report. She was suspended for 30 days on grounds of official misconduct and falsifying records.

Both Collins and Henderson could receive up to 4 years in prison for their actions.

Illegal Medical Contract

The Commission of Corrections has tentatively ruled that New Yorks $300 million contract with Prison Health Services (PHS) is illegal. Under New York law, profit-making corporate medical providers are required to be controlled by doctors. The reasoning is that business decisions will ultimately be tempered by medical wisdom. PHS violates this policy.
Prison Legal News (PLN) has published extensive data on the neglect and misdeeds of PHS. PHS is a Tennessee company that has been in the medical business in New York since 2001 and the leading prison health care provider in the U.S. To secure the Rikers contract PHS set up a professional corporation that is controlled by a doctor but is owned by PHS. All doctors employed at Rikers work for the PHS subcontractor. PLN has reported extensively on PHSs operation nationally and in New York state, see the August, 2005, issue PLN for more.

Assembly Health Committee chairman, Richard N. Gottfried said, serious questions have been raised about the legality of the PHS arrangement. New York city may well have to make major changes in how it provides health care in city jails.

PHS vice president Benjamin S. Purser Jr. defended the contract. The State Education Department has given PHS no indication that the contract is anything other than legal and appropriate, he said.

Since all physicians have to be employed by the PHS subcontractor one obvious indicator of veracity would be the doctors themselves.

Bad Doctors

Follow-up investigations found that PHS employs doctors with questionable backgrounds. In 1986, the New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners deemed Dr. Edward M. Berkelhammer a danger to the public. With his license expired, Dr. Berkelhammer administered a drug overdose to a woman he was putting through detox. He was caught lying about his record when he re-applied for his license in 1989. He was suspended for two months. New Jersey revoked his license again in 1990 for failure to comply with their orders. But Berkelhammer is currently employed at Rikers by PHS.

Dr. Ammaji Manyam is also employed at Rikers. In 1990 Manyam was sentenced to a year in jail for conspiracy and attempted grand larceny. Manyam was caught selling blood while charging the state for false tests. California, New Jersey and New York revoked her license to practice medicine but in 1997 New York restored her credentials when she expressed a desire to work with prisoners.

PHS Prison Health Psychiatrist Joseph S. Kleinplatz lost his license to practice in New York when it was discovered that his diploma was fake. Kleinplatz was eventually, but not immediately, fired by PHS.

In fact, PHS discovered 10 unlicensed psychiatrists in its employ but instead of firing them immediately it extended their tenure for 16 months. Only after the doctors failed to qualify by 2003 were they released. Three were rehired as social workers and mental health specialists.

Disgruntled Workers

PHS also suffers from a lack of espirit de corps among their workers. Disgruntled doctors and nurses have lodged complaints and quit since the company took over in January 2001.

They came in and told us they were going to run this place like a family, said Chi Lam Fu, a. pharmacist at Rikers. That is definitely not the case.

Shirlean Sims, a medical secretary said, Theyre cutting workers in every department. They gave me an ultimatum. Now they have one secretary covering two units.

PHS has also undermined union assistance. Every active delegate becomes a floater, said x-ray tech Reginald Russ. Were disjointed and they know that. How can we have a union when our organizer cant even get into Rikers. Since December, management has not even acknowledged an 1199 request for access to members on the Island.

Floating is the practice of moving around staff to different facilities to avoid fines. Doctors and nurses are often sent to prisons with smaller case loads merely to sign paperwork to show that staff was on the premises.
It became impossible to have a therapeutic conversation with a patient it was just checking off boxes, said Dr. Daniel Selling. The PHS administration could care less what I do with a patient.

Three senior clinicians have observed aloud that The practice is clearly fraudulent.

Some doctors have complained that PHS implements practices that are potentially life threatening. Pharmacist Michael Persaud is worried about PHS policy that limited the use of chest x-rays to diagnose tuberculosis. Persaud and others insist that the move is designed to save money. PHS insists that skin tests are adequate.

Its not just inmates theyre endangering, said Persaud. Its the doctors, the captains, the staff and their families.

Ernesto Marrero Jr., director of the Citys Correctional Health Services Division defends PHS cutbacks and says that employees have a different agenda...Theyre simply throwing stones.

But some stones are rattling the right doors. The New York State Nursing Association (NYSNA) took PHS to task when the prison provider required RNs at the jail to perform HIV tests on every incoming prisoner. PHS ordered the nurses to test without doctors orders, to interpret test results and to inform prisoners whether or not they tested positive. Every one of these steps is outside of an RNs medical training and illegal. Yet PHS threatened nurses with dismissal if they didnt comply.
When confronted by the NYSNA, however, PHS backed off.

To fire nurses over such a controversial policy would not only have invited a would have crippled any of PHSs attempts to recruit, said Suzanne Calvello, NYSNA nursing representative.

Calvello filed a grievance which eventually stopped the illegal practice. NYSNA then went a step further with their investigation of PHS policy. What they found was troubling.

PHS had placed jail nurses in charge of gathering a prisoners medical history at intake and assessing that history to determine what tests to run. The entire screening process was outside the scope of an RNs training. NYSNA pressured PHS to bring the process into compliance.


City health officials have also been critical of PHS treatment of seriously ill prisoners, especially the mentally impaired. Deficiencies have become glaringly apparent in the area of what some have termed a season of suicide.

Carina Montes was 29 when she hanged herself in the Rikers jail on February 6, 2003. She was first diagnosed with depression when she was 8. Her records show that she had attempted suicide at ages 13, 18 and 25. Yet in her 5 month stay at Rikers, for shoplifting 30 tubes of lipstick, Montes never saw a psychiatrist.

A physician noted at intake that Ms. Montes suffered from bipolar disorder and prescribed psychotropic medication. But the PHS floater policy lost track of both Montes and her records.

Montes arrived at Rikers on September 12, 2002 where a doctor recommended an immediate mental health exam. But it was three months later, and only after a guard noted Ms. Montes strange behavior, that anyone saw her. Not that it mattered. On December 7th Montes was seen by a floater who placed her on suicide watch. But suicide watch in Rikers prison for women consists of other suicidal prisoners, who are paid 39 cents an hour, to check on each other.

Still, Montes had a slim chance of survival. In late December she was seen by mental health specialist Brett Bergman. But Bergman had no idea Montes was bipolar or on suicide watch because her file could not be found. Bergman noted, Patient appears to be doing well and was stable. Bergman saw Montes twice more in January but her file was never found.

On February 2nd Montes got into a fight with another prisoner and was placed in isolation. No mental health worker came to see her; no one even noticed that she was refusing her medication which included the insulin for her diabetes. The only notice she got was from Linda Vega, one of her 39 cent peers, who heard Montes say, Everything I love dont love me.
Vega looked in the cell and saw a weeping Montes sitting with strips of torn sheets between her legs. Vega immediately notified guard Kje Demas. Demas went to the cell and asked Montes if she was okay.

Im O.K., replied Montes. Im just going through something.

Demas left. Montes was found dead just before 5:00 p.m.

Tragically, Montes was only one of several suicides to succeed under the watch of PHS in 2003. Jose Cruz was on suicide watch but was placed in a cell outside the direct view of prison guards. He hanged himself with his bedsheet in January.

Less than two weeks later Joseph Hughes hanged himself just four hours after a psychiatrist had noted that he was not a danger to himself. Hughes medical file indicated a history of hallucinations and suicidal gestures.
Montes followed Hughes by ten days. James Davis hanged himself with a bootlace in June 2003. Sixteen days later a 19-year old barely survived when he was rescued by another prisoner after he had hanged himself from a metal stud in the ceiling. The young man had just returned from a psychiatric evaluation.

In virtually every instance incompetence on the part of PHS employees and deficiencies in PHS policy was to blame. In Davis case two guards, two nurses and a doctor administered CPR for 15 minutes unsuccessfully but none thought to remove the bootlace from his neck. Neither were they aware that cardiac medication and oxygen tanks were close by, one of the dangers of the floater policy.

Guards had first noticed David Pennington acting strangely on July 15, 2004. His bizarre behavior was enough to get him a referral to see a mental health worker the next day. Pennington told his interviewer about his previous psychiatric institutionalizations and about two previous suicide attempts. Pennington had slashed his wrists in 1997 and overdosed on pills in 1998. On July 17th Pennington was sent to the mental health unit again after he learned of a relatives death. The social worker decided that Pennington was stable enough to return to his cell.

On the morning of July 18th jailers sent Pennington to the mental unit a third time. This time his social worker sent him to see a psychiatrist. After a brief interview the psychiatrist sent Pennington back to his cell and noted in the chart, he is not suicidal or homicidal.

About noon Pennington began having seizures and auditory hallucinations. Jailers sent him back to the psychiatrist who again did nothing for him. Pennington was sent back to his cell untreated. Ten minutes before 3:00 p.m. a distraught Pennington used a bed sheet to hang himself to death.
State investigators concluded that This deliberate refusal to provide treatment to patient with active suicidal ideation who was directly referred by another physician constitutes professional medical misconduct on the part of the psychiatrist and flagrantly inadequate mental health care by PHS, INC.

Cathy Potler, executive director of the Board of Correction questioned what happened between the time he was noted to be hallucinating and suicidal and the time he was found unresponsive in his cell? [He did] everything he could to attract psychiatric attention to himself.

Investigators also noted that Pennington had reported during his interviews that his father had committed suicide in prison. Penningtons attending psychiatrist was fired three months later for unrelated reasons.

Charon Watkins hanged himself, on March 18, 2005 at Rikers Otis Bantum Correctional Center. Watkins scribbled the number of his girlfriend on a piece of paper tied his bedsheet around his neck and hung himself from the faucet on his sink. His was the second suicide in 2005.

In spite of the lethal results of the floater policy, PHS not only has gone unpunished for prisoner deaths, they have been rewarded. Their contract was renewed in January 2005.

Psychiatrist Douglas Cooper quit from frustration during that 2003 season of suicide. The staff does the best they can, he said. Whats left they sweep under the rug.

Michele Garden was the psychologist who treated Jose Cruz. She also quit that year. I had no training as to what we do when a patient becomes depressed and becomes suicidal, she lamented.

Working for PHS was like juggling hand grenades Said Dr. Douglas Cooper. One of them was going to go off, hopefully not in your hands. A 9-year Rikers veteran, Dr. Cooper quit in August 2003.

Religious Rukus

New York City mayor Bloomberg suspended Rikers head chaplain for making what many considered to be anti-American and anti-Semitic remarks. The controversy stems from speeches made last year by Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil to the Muslim Students Association in Arizona.

During those speeches Jalil was secretly recorded by The Investigative Project [a group that bills itself as investigating Muslim armed struggle groups and which is reportedly linked to Israeli intelligence services], as saying, We have terrorists defining who a terrorist is...We know that the greatest terrorists in the world occupy the White House...

Jalil also said that innocent Muslims not charged with anything are literally tortured in the Metropolitan Correctional Facility in Manhattan. His speech sparked a firestorm of responses from various sources and was literally called a Hate Speech and Hate Tirade by the New York Post. [Editors Note: PLN has reported the findings of the Department of Justices own Inspector General that prisoners rounded up in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks on pretextual charges were in fact systematically tortured and abused in federal jails in New York City. Thus the first statement may be an opinion, the latter is not disputed except by those who will argue about whether systematic beatings and abuse constitute torture.]

Fortunately, Bloomberg exercised more restraint than the Post in his judgment of Jalil. The mayor defended the chaplains right to free speech but initiated his March 11, two week, no pay suspension from his $76,000 a year job, saying that Jalil should have told the audience that his speech reflected only his personal views and by not doing so his actions brought discredit upon the department.

Bloomberg went on to say that Looking across America, it seems that free speech is being attacked by the right under the guise of patriotism and by the left through academic intolerance that stifles necessary debate. As Americans, we should never pander to xenophobia, anti-intellectualism or convention.

While Bloombergs observation is indisputably accurate the New York Times points out that the flawlessness of his reasoning may actually jeopardize his bid for reelection as it alienates both right and left wingers.
But just as Bloombergs Jewish heritage gives him a unique perspective on Jalils position as a Muslim, Jalils heritage as an African-American, a former prisoner, and an American-born Muslim gives him a unique perspective in the insidious nature and abuse in Americas prisons.
Jalils record as head chaplain was described as flawless and he has the vocal support of the jails Jewish chaplains. Rabbi Leib Glanz said, The man has no, not even a fraction of, anti-Semitism in his bones.

ADA Violations

Attorneys and civil rights groups have joined forces in a class action suit on behalf of mentally disabled prisoners against the state of New York. Shari L. Steinberg and David M. Lubitz of Swindler, Berlin, Shereff, Friedman LLP along with attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, the Urban Justice Center and Judge David L.Bazelon Center For Mental Health Law have filed an Equal Protection claim for mentally disabled prisoners who have been systematically denied access to drug treatment programs.

The class action suit names only prisoner plaintiffs William G. and Walter W. who suffer from mental disabilities (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) as well as chemical addiction. Both are guilty of non-serious crimes and subsequent parole violation. Each plaintiff was referred to a substance abuse program (MICA) in lieu of incarceration and both have languished in jail for months because of a shortage of facilities that can treat both their addiction and mental health conditions.

Conversely, parole violators without mental disabilities, who are recommended for MICA often leave jail within days. The suit alleges that the state leases jail beds from the city for $34 a day and that these funds should be directed towards plaintiffs treatment rather than their incarceration. Plaintiffs are seeking relief under Title II Section 504 of the American with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Gay Unit Closed

Rikers gay prisoners lost their exclusive housing unit late last year as homosexuals were housed in either general population or protective custody. The closing marks the end of a 30 year old jail procedure.

It was the only area of the department where inmates could choose where they wanted to live, said Martin Horn, city correction commissioner.
When the alternative housing was originally created the concern was that weaker prisoners became prey for aggressive prisoners in general population. But more recently the gay housing unit had become a security risk.

What we ended up with was this housing unit where people were predatory and people were vulnerable. The very units that should be the most safe, in fact, had become the least safe, said Horn. No evidence was provided to support this claim.

Gay activists are not pleased. This is not a change for the benefit of the prisoners, this is a change for the benefit of the administration, said Carrie Davis, a social worker at New Yorks Lesbian, Gay, Transsexual and Transgender Community Center. What theyre saying is, people who by virtue of immutable characteristics are going to be put in 23-hour lockdown. Does that sound fair? she asked.

D. Horowitz, attorney with the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, says that the new protective restrictions violates a 1982 state ruling that confinement of prisoners for 22 hours a day, based solely on their sexual orientation is unconstitutional.

People should not be punished for wanting to be safe, said Horowitz.
Department spokesman Tom Antenen said that only those gay prisoners who felt threatened would be placed in the lockdown facilities.

Los Angeles has the only remaining gay jail facility in the country.

Human Rights in New York City

In the largest city in the United States, and the financial capital of the world, prisoners on Rikers Island are routinely abused by staff, denied adequate medical care and not protected from their fellow predatory prisoners. PLN routinely reports on jury verdicts and settlements in lawsuits brought by Rikers Island prisoners. The jail has been the subject of a 30 year old class action suit challenging many conditions of confinement, Benjamin v. Horn. Despite decades of court orders the jail still fails to fulfill basic duties like repairing broken windows, maintaining control of vermin and effective heating, cooling and ventilation. Separate class action suits have been successfully brought by the heroic lawyers of the Legal Aid Societys Prisoner Rights Project, headed by John Boston, on numerous aspects of Rikers Islands operation, including the failure to provide an education to imprisoned children, provision of services to the mentally ill, overcrowding, ventilation and overall conditions, discrimination against women prisoners, living conditions and treatment of mentally ill prisoners and much more as would require several more pages to detail, but which we have previously reported in PLN and which are available on our website. Were it not for the minimal judicial oversight and modicum of accountability provided by litigation things would be far worse than they are.

The truth is that almost everything that is not supposed to happen in jail is happening on Rikers Island, and has been for several decades. A lack of political will and accountability ensure this will most likely continue.

Sources: ABC News, News Day, New York Daily News, New York Post, New York Times

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