Rikers Island correction officers continue to be too rough with inmates who refuse orders or make threats, a federal monitoring group said Tuesday.
There’s an “ingrained propensity of staff to immediately default to force to manage any level of inmate threat or resistance,” the group said in its latest report on conditions at the city lockup.
There’s also an “absence of timely accountability for such misconduct,” it found.
The report, from a eight-member group overseeing court-ordered reforms at Rikers, said jail staff “relish confrontation” and too often “engender, nurture and encourage confrontation.”
Avoiding confrontation, the group said, “appears to be anathema to many supervisors and line staff.”
Advocates for inmates pointed to the findings as more proof that the city needs to shut down the sprawling jail complex.
“This report reaffirms that there is no saving or reforming Rikers Island,” said Glenn Martin, founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA and leader of the #CLOSErikers movement. “No amount of incremental reforms can change or redeem that place.
“It is, and always will be, ‘Torture Island,’” Martin added.
Blood appears on the hand of a correction officer when two inmates were attacking each other.
City Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann said her department is complying with most of the requirements in the report “and is moving quickly to fix all other issues the monitor identifies.”
She said the report found no lack of effort or resources in the department to enact the reforms.
Still, the 259-page report is filled with examples of correction officer abuses from Jan. 1 to June 30.
In April, a jail boss was heard on tape “exhorting officers in a crude and profane manner” to attack an inmate, even though the detainee was restrained and not resisting.
In June, there were at least 423 use-of-force cases, which included 100 against restrained inmates, at least 35 possible “head strikes” and 15 prohibited holds.
The report is the fourth broad review of the scandal scarred department by the oversight team.
The head of the monitoring group, Steve Martin, was appointed after a group of inmates and former Manhattan federal prosecutor Preet Bharara filed a lawsuit, alleging widespread abuses by officers.
Inmate Christian Sims says he injured his head on a bedpost, an account disputed by a medical review.
In 2015, the city settled the case, agreeing to a host of reforms such as added security cameras and outside oversight by Martin.
In September, the department adopted a new “use of force” policy, ordering officers to minimize hits to inmates’ heads unless absolutely necessary. But many officers have not been retrained, the report said. Jail brass disputed that finding, arguing that nearly 100% of the force has received the extra instruction.
The report found that:
- Officers are too fast to aggressively force inmates to the floor.
- Jail staff tasked with yanking inmates out of their cells approach the situation “at full speed and forcibly apply the (security) shield” when inmates offer little or no pushback.
- Staffers fail to grasp when an inmate encounter is intensifying and instead make matters worse by using “provocative language.”
- Officer reports detail when inmates break the rules but rarely include information about “inappropriate actions by staff that escalated the incident.”
- When interacting with inmates, “staff lack effective listening skills” and fail to keep proper distance.
- A high number of captains are “frequently and repeatedly involved in problematic” use-of-force cases.
In one notable case, a captain with a long history of questionable attacks on inmates kicked and stomped a detainee, the oversight review said. The same captain slammed another inmate into a wall, causing a head injury that required five sutures.
Front page of the New York Daily News for April 1, 2017.
(New York Daily News)
Some of the uses of force are never reported or downgraded to routine “log book entries,” according to the report.
“The leadership in the Department of Correction must hold itself accountable not only for the hostility and violence that is too ingrained in jail management, but also for the sheer incompetence of its systems of accountability,” said Mary Lynne Werlwas, director of the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project who represented the inmates in the class action case that led to the federal monitor.
Last August, the Daily News reported 11 cases where high-ranking jail officials overrode the judgement of correction officers and doctors and downgraded use-of-force data to make them more favorable
Jail officials have vehemently denied manipulating the statistics, but the report disagreed with seven out of the 10 such downgrades over the past six months.
They were all minor uses of force, the oversight group said, “but the process of downgrading…incidents sends a troubling and confusing message to staff that there is a grey area or some discretion, in what is considered a use of force.”
Meaningful reform will take the city longer than expected after years of mismanagement, limited funds, and “antiquated and bureaucratic processes,” according to the report.