U.S. Sues New York City Over Rikers Island’s Treatment of Teen Inmates

By Julianne Hing Dec 18, 2014

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is making good on warnings he issued earlier this year over New York City’s handling of the city jail Rikers Island. Today, federal prosecutors announced that they will sue the city for violating the civil rights of its juvenile inmates, the New York Times reported. 

Rikers Island’s adolescent inmates were "subjected to unconstitutional conditions and confinement," Bharara and Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in their filing, the Los Angeles Times reported. Until September of this year when city officials moved to phase out the practice, solitary confinement has been the primary form of punishment used against 16 and 17-year-old inmates at Rikers.

That wasn’t enough change for federal prosecutors, who wrote in their filing that among other violations, "Staff have frequently insulted, humiliated, and antagonized [inmates], often using obscenities and abusive language without fear of any reprimand from supervisors. Such unprofessional conduct provokes physical altercations, and leads to unnecessary violence." In a searing federal report published this summer, Bharara also noted that in the last two years, adolescent inmates sustained more than a thousand injuries–nearly half of which required emergency care, the Los Angeles Times reported.

If you’re looking for devastating, deep reads into Rikers Island, The New York Times’ Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have been filing reports on the jail this year on the culture of abuse and violence which ruled Rikers, focusing on guards’ brutal treatment of inmates, especially those with mental illness.

In their latest installment, Winerip and Schwirtz examine labor’s role in blocking reform of the jail system. It’s an especially pertinent issue as the rest of the nation grapples with police accountability and criminal justice reform. It’s not just corrections officer unions who are stymieing accountability efforts.