Expenses, violence and abuse rise on Rikers Island

Rikers Island prison, New York City. Despite boasting a smaller inmate and guard population than in 2007, the frequency of prison violence and the costs spent on the prison have gone up.

According to a recent New York Times article, the number of assaults on prison staff by inmates increased by 124 percent since 2007. Additionally, New York’s Correctional Department spent almost $100,000 per inmate in the city’s correctional facilities by June 2014.

With 11,500 inmates, an 18 percent decrease from 2007, the total amount spent is roughly $1.15 billion. This is far more than other large American cities — such as Los Angeles —spend on prisons with higher inmate populations.

What could be behind the rise in cost? According to sophomore and Justice & Policy Studies Departmental Assistant Ivie Norris in an email interview, the increase can possibly be attributed to the number of services needed for the island prison. Necessities such as transportation, electric bills and food take up most of the total expenses used on New York correctional facilities.

Another possible factor for the increased costs is the advanced, frequent medical care provided to inmates. According to the Correction Department, roughly 40 percent of New York City’s inmate population has been diagnosed with some kind of mental illness. Moving the mentally ill to these rehabilitation facilities would not only benefit that group of people, but it could also help with New York’s cost issues.

“If the inmates that are put into this NY Corrections Department were more carefully and strategically placed, the costs could essentially go down due to the increase in efficiency,” said Norris.

The number of mentally ill prisoners could be a possible cause for the increase in violence.

“(Mentally ill inmates) may not be getting their proper medication,” said Jessica Stone, senior and criminal justice major. “They are going to confuse reality with fantasy and act out more.”

The way inmates are treated by guards at Rikers may also have a role in the rise in violence.

“If you approach someone expecting them to become violent, they’re more likely to become violent,” said criminal justice major Kate Gibson ’14 in an email interview.

Rikers inmates are not the only group of people to initiate violence. Reports of guards assaulting prisoners have tripled over the past seven years. In one recent case, Bishme Ayers, a former Rikers inmate, accused a correctional officer of attacking and sexually abusing him with a nightstick.

Robin Miller, an ex-Rikers guard, has witnessed numerous cases where guards have raped inmates. In an interview with The New York Post, Miller stated how the guards would pull the inmates out of their cells at night and force them to perform oral sex.

According to New York City Council member Elizabeth Crowley, one possible cause for the increase in guard violence can be attributed to the number of work hours. Some officers work up to 80 hours per month, more than they are supposed to by Correction Department regulations.

In the case of sexual assault, Just Detention International Senior Communications Officer Jesse Lerner-Kinglake offers the possibility that inmates are viewed as having fewer human rights.

“There is an idea in our culture that when you go behind bars, you are automatically vulnerable to sexual abuse, and that’s simply not the case,” said Lerner-Kinglake in a phone interview with The Guilfordian.

Violence in Rikers Island — and in other correctional facilities — is an issue that must be dealt with. Students and citizens who want to help must raise awareness in order to make change happen.

“If enough people make complaints and challenge the current culture within prisons, things will begin to change because corrections officers more than likely will not want to be looked down upon by the public,” said Norris.