Violent Rikers Island Jail NYC’s Way Of Demonizing Its Children: Horn


The U.S. Attorney’s report that 40 percent of the 700 juveniles in New York City’s Rikers Island jail were subjected to the use of force by guards and required emergency medical aid 450 times is alarming, juvenile justice experts tell NPR. “I’ve seen lots of jails where children have been held and I’ve seen violence in those facilities. But I’ve never heard of this level of violence,” says Mark Soler of the Center for Children’s Law and Policy in Washington, D.C. “Rikers represents an old way of doing things — an old, punishment-oriented way of treating inmates.” Guards oppose a plan to end solitary confinement. “These kids … are coming in as violent predators,” says Thomas Farrell, a longtime Rikers guard. He says officers need all the tools they can get to control inmates, including solitary confinement. He says: “If you’re going to do away with punitive segregation, what other tool do you have to protect? The majority of the crimes are committed against inmates, so realistically we’re looking to save inmates from being hurt.”

Martin Horn, former city correction commissioner, says the problems with Rikers go beyond staffing and training. Horn says he tried several times to move the juvenile inmates off Rikers to smaller detention centers elsewhere in the city, but he was blocked by communities that didn’t want them. Horn says that sends a clear message to everyone at Rikers. “Rikers Island is symbolic. Rikers Island is New York City’s way of demonizing its own citizens, its own children. And that’s what we do when we put them on Rikers,” he says. “And when we do that, we send a not-so-subtle message to the staff that the community doesn’t want these kids, and the community doesn’t really care what happens to them.”

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