Saturday, 16 Oct 2021

Opinion | The Chaotic Conditions at Rikers Island

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To the Editor:

Re “Lawlessness Inside Rikers Lets Inmates Flex Power” (front page, Oct. 11):

I worked at Rikers Island for two years as an attending physician. Your article captures very well the condition of the jail and the ineptness of the correctional services. Why are those responsible for running the facility providing ineffective security for inmates, staff and civilian workers?

Having worked in correctional health care for 25 years, I found the medical services at Rikers to be top notch, with very dedicated mental health care providers caring for inmates who were frequently homeless and addicted to drugs.

The atmosphere, however, was like the Wild West. I was physically attacked by an inmate. Inmates freely cuss out staff and contract employees. This caused a feeling of moral and professional helplessness.

It seems that the easy way out is to build new jails. However, unless the people at the top are held accountable, I fear that the same dangerous conditions will continue to plague New York City citizens who are arrested and the staff who try to deliver services to them.

Michael Borecky
New York
The writer is a cardiologist.

To the Editor:

In the late 1970s as project director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society, I was part of a team of lawyers who brought lawsuits challenging conditions of confinement at New York City’s jails, including those at Rikers Island.

Our litigation led to the closing of the notorious “Tombs” in Lower Manhattan and culminated in a series of consent decrees that applied to all jails, including those on Rikers. These court orders at least ensured basic health and sanitation and a modicum of decency and safety.

We also advocated for the sale and closing of Rikers Island decades before closing it was the official policy of the city. However, the city broke its promise to comply with these decrees, and after the passage of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (which restricted the ability of inmates to file lawsuits), it persuaded the courts to largely terminate these decrees, leaving the detainees on Rikers Island without essential judicial oversight. The tragedies now unfolding on Rikers Island are the direct result.

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