Report: Rikers Island Youth Face Rampant Abuse, Violence, Corruption

August 4, 2014 | Amy K. Nelson

Rikers Island inmates aged 16-18 are subject to institutionalized abuse, constitutional rights violations and systemic corruption, according to the findings in a blistering U.S. Department of Justice report released on Monday.

The 79-page report out of the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan details horrific conditions for male teenagers housed there between 2011-13. DOJ investigators say there is a “culture of violence” at the three jails housing the teenage inmates.

Among the findings:

• Radios, batons, broomsticks, were among items used by officers to beat inmates.

• There were 565 reported cases of abuse in 2013, resulting in 1,057 injuries.

• On average, there were three emergency alarms per day and in 2013 alone, teens were taken to emergency medical services 459 times.

• The unit responsible for investigating correction officers — headed by Florence Finkle — is archaic, inept and ineffective.

• There are widespread threats of retaliation for reporting abuse.

• Officers took inmates to isolated spots — out of view from video cameras — to beat them.

• Inmates actually asked for solitary confinement, for fear of abuse.

• One officer had 76 complaints for use of force in one year, was disciplined just one time.

• Incident reports were falsified and officers likely colluded with one another to get stories straight.

• With an average of 500 inmates a year, over half of those in 2013 were diagnosed with mental illness, yet those same inmates had the least-experienced staff.

This isn’t the first time abuse at New York City jails has been alleged. Finkle, the woman who heads the department in charge of investigating abuse claims, has a track record of subpar investigations. In a class-action lawsuit filed two years ago on behalf of inmates who were abused, its alleged that Finkle had “taken no meaningful steps to address” the allegations.

The DOJ offers remedial steps and changes the city needs to implement in order to improve conditions at the jails, including revising the “use of force policy to clarify prohibited conduct” and ensuring “that staff are held accountable and disciplined for the use of excessive and unnecessary force.” Failure to comply could result in a federal lawsuit. (Photo: @peterkreder)