The call to close down the Rikers Island correctional facility has grown louder in recent years as conditions have become more stark and violent. Those calls have grown louder due in part to newly released videos depicting gang rule in the cells, with fight clubs held by inmates to maintain control.
According to recent reporting from the New York Times, the conditions at New York City’s Rikers Island correctional facility have grown to alarming levels of violence to the point where correctional officers have acquiesced, letting gang leaders take control of cellblocks and violate rules in the process. This revelation, brought forth by a person seeking release from Rikers due to these dangerous conditions, was reinforced by surveillance camera footage from the jail that was obtained by the New York County Defender Services supporting his testimony.
In one video, a leader of the predominately Dominican gang known as the Trinitarios can be seen organizing a fight between inmates in the same cellblock unit. The person testifying, identified as Relator G. in the article, described being coerced into being one of the combatants by other members of the gang in an incident that took place last October. He also went on to describe the conditions of the housing unit, relating that correctional officers had ceded control to the gang’s leader in order to make up for their shortages in staff which led to the unit being unguarded for at least two days out of the week.
The testimony and footage led Manhattan Supreme Court Judge April Newbauer to make the striking decision to release the man, stating that the Department of Corrections had failed in their duty to protect him due to practices and an attitude that “was tantamount to deliberate indifference.” The decision might serve as a template for other incarcerated people on Rikers who fear for their safety at the prison. “People marched for George Floyd — I think there needs to be a similar movement for the people on Rikers Island,” said Eric M. Burse, a trial lawyer with the New York County Defender Services who served as legal representation for the individual who was released. “Those people over there don’t have much of a voice. They are locked up. It is incumbent upon regular ordinary citizens to sound the alarm just like my client did.”