The latest in a string of brutality cases against Rikers Island guards has added to a debate on whether New York City’s notoriously violent jail complex has become so dysfunctional it should be closed, the Associated Press reports. At least 35 Rikers staff members have faced criminal charges in three years, including 13 for assault or attempted assault. Federal prosecutors have charged more than a half dozen Rikers guards with violating inmates’ civil rights through excessive force, smuggling drugs and other charges since 2014.”Rikers Island is one of these long-term injustices and abuses that every New Yorker should be outraged about,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The situation is intolerable.”
Inmate activists argue that shutting down the sprawling, 10-jail complex on the East River is the only solution for a cycle of abuses that include violence by guards and gang members, mistreatment of the mentally ill and juveniles and unjustly long detention for minor offenders. “If you are a New Yorker who cares about the soul of the criminal justice system, you know that Rikers is the belly of the beast,” said Glenn Martin of the nonprofit group JustLeadershipUSA. Among the other arguments for closing Rikers is that the island facility near La Guardia Airport — accessible only by a narrow bridge — is too isolated, cutting off inmates from the outside world in a way that hinders oversight and rehabilitation. Daily populations at Rikers have been falling below the 10,000 capacity, a trend officials attribute to reducing detention for minor drug possession.