The portrait that emerged from the U.S. Attorney’s investigation of the Rikers Island jail in New York City last week was of a place with almost medieval levels of violence, meted out with startling ferocity by guards and their superiors, says the New York Times. The probe, which focused on the abuse of teenage inmates by corrections staff, was exhaustive in cataloging the brutality. A critical question that went unaddressed is how conditions were allowed to get to this point.
Rikers has been a place of violent excess for decades. The growing ranks of inmates with mental illnesses, reaching nearly 40 percent of the jail population, have added to the challenges for officials. Conditions worsened substantially under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which reduced jail staff and failed to curb escalating violence by guards. Bloomberg never made Rikers a high priority, at a time when conditions were drastically deteriorating. “We met with the Department of Correction and the Bloomberg administration about the prevalence of violence directed by correctional staff towards prisoners, and they didn't respond,” said Dr. Robert Cohen, a member of the city’s Board of Correction, a watchdog agency.