The culture at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex makes reforms difficult, says the Marshall Project. “Jail has a smell,” says one correction officer. “Worse than a sewer. The island is its own island that people on the outside could never understand.” Gangs at the jail are especially powerful now. Bloods dominate, but they, like other gangs, have begun to splinter violently into smaller subsets. Some correction officers believe that recent reforms have hamstrung their ability to do their job. They say the end of solitary confinement for 16- to 17-year-olds has resulted in more violence because they've lost the biggest consequences for misbehavior.
Both inmates and officers think that a new generation of COs, many of whom have taken a substantial number of college courses, is less street-smart, less equipped to deal with the brutal realities of the job, and more likely to clash with inmates. City correction commissioner Joseph Ponte says it will take years of recruiting, retraining, rethinking and spending to fulfill Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to make Rikers a “national model of what is right again.” Says Ponte: “We put in new leadership with a new direction, we've seen great reductions in use of force, in every category. We looked at at basic training, staff hiring, at how did we manage staff probationary periods, what was the oversight and how did that work? All of those things have just been dysfunctional for some time.”