Late last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his support to close Rikers Island, the jail complex with a long history of violence that currently imprisons more than 8,000 New Yorkers. His support, combined with the release of a report by an independent commission, puts New York City on a path, though a long one, to closing the infamous jail.
Rikers is the site of dozens of horrifying stories of prisoner mistreatment, which have gained wider prominence in recent years. There was Andy Henriquez, who died four years ago, at 19 years of age, in the prison’s solitary-confinement unit. Allegedly, Henriquez, who was suffering from a tear in his aorta that had spread, cried out from his cell to say goodbye to his mother, but he never got the chance. He died on the floor of the cell without proper medical attention.
In 2008, Steven Morales, also in solitary confinement, apparently for his safety, hung himself with a towel. Morales was just 17 years old. The total number of solitary confinement beds on Rikers went up more than 60 percent between 2007 and mid-2013, reported The New Yorker, and 27 percent of teenage inmates on Rikers were in solitary confinement.
The Robert N. Davoren Center, the jail that housed most teen boys between the ages of 16 and 18, was particularly notorious. In 2014, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York released a report on the treatment of teen boys in the prison and found that in one year, between 2012 and 2013, adolescents sustained a total of 754 visible injuries. The report, which collected data from 2011 to 2013, also found that use of force was common in areas without surveillance cameras, investigations into the use of force were inadequate, and that there was a “deep-seated culture of violence” against teenage inmates.