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Federal Investigation: Violence Rampant in NYC Youth Jail

Aug 11, 2014

In a scathing report issued last week, the federal prosecutor in Manhattan faulted the New York City correction department for failing to protect teenage inmates at the Rikers Island jail from unnecessary and excessive force by correction officers.

Preet Bharara, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, described a “deep-seated culture of violence” against young inmates. According to The New York Times, correction officers operated with little fear of punishment, under a “powerful code of silence.” The 79-page report, the result of a two-and-a-half-year investigation, noted a “staggering” number of injuries among teen inmates. For fiscal year 2013, 1,057 injuries resulted from 565 reported uses of force by correctional staff.

Mr. Bharara described Rikers as “a place where brute force is the first impulse rather than the last resort, a place where verbal insults are repaid with physical injuries, where beatings are routine while accountability is rare,” according to the Times.

Nearly 44 percent of the adolescent males in custody in October 2012 had been subjected to force by staff members at least once. The report says officers struck inmates in the head and face at “an alarming rate,” even when the inmate posed no threat. The Times reports that some officers administered beatings in areas out of view of security cameras. The report describes one incident where officers beat four inmates with radios, batons and broomsticks, and slammed their heads against walls, according to the Times.

The investigators were critical of the fact that new correction officers are often assigned to the adolescent population and they are ill-equipped to deal with belligerent teens who often suffer from mental illnesses and behavioral disorders, The Associated Press reports. The report noted the overuse of solitary confinement, particularly for mentally ill inmates.

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