Call For Federal Oversight Of Rikers Island
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2014

In an editorial today, the New York Times called for federal oversight of Rikers Island, citing the Justice Department report detailing the abuses and torture of inmates. The Legal Aid Society's Prisoners' Rights Project has brought several lawsuits in an attempt to correct these outrageous problems. The most recent suit, brought by Legal Aid on behalf of 12 inmates who were seriously injured during encounters with guards, has been certified for class action and is currently the subject of settlement negotiations with the city.




The New York Times
New York’s Jails Need Federal Oversight
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
OCT. 10, 2014

New York City has failed for so long to control the corruption and brutality in its jail system that it’s fair to ask whether it will ever do so. The Justice Department is wholly justified in threatening to sue the city if Mayor Bill de Blasio does not act promptly and persuasively to improve conditions in the chamber of horrors that is the Rikers Island jail. In the meantime, federal officials should consider using civil rights statutes to prosecute cases of brutality and misconduct that local authorities have overlooked or declined to bring to court.

The argument for bringing outside pressure to bear on abuses the city seems incapable of tackling was presented in a scalding Justice Department report in August. The report documented “a deep-seated culture of violence” that not only allowed but seemed to encourage repeated beatings for backtalk and other minor offenses and permitted officers to engage in sadistic torture without fear of official reprisal. In one case, in April 2012, five Rikers Island guards and a captain hogtied a mentally-ill man named Robert Hinton and carried him by his arms and legs into a solitary-confinement cell. He emerged with a broken nose, a fractured vertebra, his eyes swollen shut and blood coming from his mouth.

Most disciplinary matters are handled within the department and typically draw a suspension. If an officer objects to the outcome, his case receives a trial before an administrative judge. Since 2009, an administrative judge has found 49 officers guilty in brutality cases. Job termination was recommended for nine of the officers; the rest received minor suspensions, from five to 60 days.

In ruling on the Hinton case last month, the judge recommended that six officers be fired for lying about the circumstances in which Mr. Hinton had been beaten. This recommendation now goes to the correction commissioner, who can accept or modify it. After that, the officers are free to appeal yet again to the Civil Service Commission.

This long, drawn-out process can result in an officer who is awaiting disciplinary action in one incident being implicated in another. This turned out to be true of the captain involved in the Hinton case. Later that year, in December, he and several correction officers allegedly handcuffed two inmates to a gurney, wheeled them into a clinic examination room beyond the range of security cameras, and beat them so severely their blood splattered the walls. The medical staff is said to have begged the officers to stop.

The city’s Department of Investigation referred the case to the Bronx district attorney, who declined to prosecute, citing inconsistencies in the witness accounts. The Justice Department needs to re-examine this decision — and any others that appear dubious — with an eye to bringing prosecutions of its own under federal civil rights laws. Without constant federal pressure, the core problems at Rikers — corruption and brutality — are unlikely to be solved.




The New York Times
New York’s Jails Need Federal Oversight
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
OCT. 10, 2014

New York City has failed for so long to control the corruption and brutality in its jail system that it’s fair to ask whether it will ever do so. The Justice Department is wholly justified in threatening to sue the city if Mayor Bill de Blasio does not act promptly and persuasively to improve conditions in the chamber of horrors that is the Rikers Island jail. In the meantime, federal officials should consider using civil rights statutes to prosecute cases of brutality and misconduct that local authorities have overlooked or declined to bring to court.

The argument for bringing outside pressure to bear on abuses the city seems incapable of tackling was presented in a scalding Justice Department report in August. The report documented “a deep-seated culture of violence” that not only allowed but seemed to encourage repeated beatings for backtalk and other minor offenses and permitted officers to engage in sadistic torture without fear of official reprisal. In one case, in April 2012, five Rikers Island guards and a captain hogtied a mentally-ill man named Robert Hinton and carried him by his arms and legs into a solitary-confinement cell. He emerged with a broken nose, a fractured vertebra, his eyes swollen shut and blood coming from his mouth.

Most disciplinary matters are handled within the department and typically draw a suspension. If an officer objects to the outcome, his case receives a trial before an administrative judge. Since 2009, an administrative judge has found 49 officers guilty in brutality cases. Job termination was recommended for nine of the officers; the rest received minor suspensions, from five to 60 days.

In ruling on the Hinton case last month, the judge recommended that six officers be fired for lying about the circumstances in which Mr. Hinton had been beaten. This recommendation now goes to the correction commissioner, who can accept or modify it. After that, the officers are free to appeal yet again to the Civil Service Commission.

This long, drawn-out process can result in an officer who is awaiting disciplinary action in one incident being implicated in another. This turned out to be true of the captain involved in the Hinton case. Later that year, in December, he and several correction officers allegedly handcuffed two inmates to a gurney, wheeled them into a clinic examination room beyond the range of security cameras, and beat them so severely their blood splattered the walls. The medical staff is said to have begged the officers to stop.

The city’s Department of Investigation referred the case to the Bronx district attorney, who declined to prosecute, citing inconsistencies in the witness accounts. The Justice Department needs to re-examine this decision — and any others that appear dubious — with an eye to bringing prosecutions of its own under federal civil rights laws. Without constant federal pressure, the core problems at Rikers — corruption and brutality — are unlikely to be solved.