New York City Settlement Could Bring Sweeping Reforms to Rikers Island

A newly reached settlement between New York City officials and Rikers Island, the city’s notorious prison, has the potential to overhaul the facility’s abusive conditions.

Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, joined a lawsuit in December alleging that prison officials routinely used unnecessary physical and verbal force on inmates, but were rarely held accountable, which he outlined in a 2014 report that examined the prison’s conditions from 2011 to 2013. The settlement, which was announced yesterday, requires the city to elect  a representative to monitor Rikers conditions, to install security cameras throughout the complex and to relocate prisoners who are under the age of 18 to juvenile facilities. Security guards will receive body cameras as part of a one-year pilot program, and measures will be implemented to ensure that correctional officers who mistreat inmates will be held accountable for their actions. 

“I have repeatedly made clear our unwavering commitment to enduring and enforceable reform at Rikers Island,” Bharara said in a statement. “This comprehensive framework requires the city to implement sweeping operational changes to fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence.”

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In recent years, the prison has come under fire after abusive conditions were exposed. Two mentally ill inmates died at the prison last year after being denied their medications and left unsupervised. Earlier this month, 22-year-old Kalief Browder, who had been held for three years at Rikers Island without a trial, committed suicide. Browder was arrested in 2010 at the age of 16 for allegedly stealing a backpack. Since he was already on probation, he was placed in Rikers, where he brutally beaten by both inmates and guards and spent a total of more than 400 days in solitary confinement. 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been outspoken about overhauling the prison’s harrowing conditions.

“[The city has] a moral imperative to ensure every New Yorker in this city’s care is treated with decency and respect,” de Blasio said in a statement.

City officials are expected to pass their agreement to court officials by July 1. If the court approves of the terms, then the city will begin introducing to the system.