Stop Rikers cruelty

From the November-December 2015 issue of News & Letters

New York City—Over 100 people attended a midday Manhattan hearing on proposed new draconian restrictions at the city’s notorious Rikers Island (called by many New York’s Guantanamo) concerning visiting rules, packages and especially demands by prison authorities to roll back limits on the use of solitary confinement.

In particular the Department of Corrections is demanding: visits be restricted to family members alone and only family members without criminal histories; any packages sent to prisoners from outside come from “official vendors” (meaning Amazon, basically); that restrictions on the punitive use of solitary confinement, enacted earlier by the Board of Corrections, be rolled back, giving the correctional staff unlimited power as to how long prisoners can be held in segregation.

The hearing was conducted by the Board of Corrections of the City of New York. One person after another representing prisoner advocacy, civil liberty, religious, Trans and advocacy groups, as well as family members all testified, unanimously, against the proposed rules.

One ex-prisoner, who had served time in Rikers and state prisons, stated that the visiting rules at Rikers were infinitely worse than in state prison. Another ex-prisoner testified that she was beaten up by guards and left unprotected to be raped by other prisoners. A woman said that she was forced to have sex with a guard or be thrown in solitary confinement. A former Rikers employee from the mental health department testified as to the severe mental impact that prolonged solitary confinement had on prisoners, and noted that at Rikers it is the norm to place mentally ill prisoners in solitary confinement, sometimes without justification.

There were speakers from News and Letters Committees, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the Jail Action Coalition, which organized the mass turnout at the hearing, the Osborne Society, the Fortune Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union and others.

The overall tone was one of passionate indignation. The hearing lasted for several hours. Representatives of the Department of Corrections were invited to attend, but none did so.

—NYC Prisoner advocate

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