Inmates Running Asylum: Brawls, Parties, Overdoses Overwhelm Short-Staffed Riker’s Island

A corrections officers prepares for a news conference in an enhanced supervision housing unit on Rikers Island in New York, Thursday, March 12, 2015. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a comprehensive plan to curb jail violence after a visit to the problem-plagued Rikers Island jail complex. …
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Short-staffing issues at Riker’s Island have resulted in chaos. Brawls, parties, and overdoses have become a norm at the New York correctional facility.

On Sunday, footage was released of an inmate being brutally assaulted by three other inmates. In the video, the victim can be heard yelling, “Why the fuck are you fighting me for!” As punches rained down from his three aggressors, the inmate repeatedly screamed, “I’m not a Brim! I’m not a Brim!” The word “Brim” refers to a subset of the gang the Bloods. For 25 seconds the attack lasted without any guard intervention.

According to the President of the Correction Captains’ Association Patrick Ferraiuolo, there were at least 33 unsupervised posts while 22 officers pulled triple shifts. 

Another incident occurred last week when a TikTok video of inmates partying in the Robert N. Davoren Complex was brought to light. The inmates enjoyed rap music and drinks while one inmate smoked on what appeared to be a type of cigarette. It is not known what the contents inside the cigarette paper were. A Riker’s source explained, “again, no officer on post.” The source would add that “cellphones, money, and drugs,” have become common aspects of inmate’s lives.

A third incident took place this week when inmate Esias Johnson, 24, was discovered dead in his cell in the Anna M. Kross Center. According to Ferraiuolo and another source, the death appears to be a product of an overdose as Johnson was unresponsive in his cell at 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday. According to the DOC, Johnson accounts for the tenth inmate to die in only the last nine months and “at least the third person to die on Rikers in the last 30 days” per a statement released from the Legal Aid Society:

The Department of Correction continues to demonstrate that it cannot house people safely. Mr. Johnson is at least the third person to die on Rikers in the last 30 days. Reducing the jail population is the only way to avoid further deaths and swift action is desperately needed. 

A source from Riker’s explained the prevalence of overdoses and drug use in the prison as inmates have been known to mix fentanyl with K-2 which is a synthetic drug. “We have at least three medical emergencies a day from inmates doing drugs,” the source began. “I’m not sure what they’re taking but it’s definitely not marijuana. I had a medical emergency in my housing area, the inmate was hallucinating and foaming at the mouth”

In this July 31, 2014 file photo, an inmate at Rikers Island juvenile detention facility carries a plastic fork behind his back as he walks with other inmates in single file to the jail's chapel for a visit from Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons and entertainer L.L. Cool J. The city's juvenile jails are extremely violent and unsafe, the result of a deeply ingrained culture of violence in which guards routinely violate constitutional rights of teenage inmates and subject them to "rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force," federal prosecutors said in a scathing report released Monday, Aug. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

In this July 31, 2014 file photo, an inmate at Rikers Island juvenile detention facility carries a plastic fork behind his back as he walks with other inmates in single file to the jail’s chapel for a visit from Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons and entertainer L.L. Cool J. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)

President of the Correction Officer’s Benevolent Association (COBA) Benny Boscio Jr. informed the New York Post that the majority of the short-staff problems the prison faces are a product of the ludicrous policies of radical New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio:

Maintaining safety and security in New York City’s jails begins with maintaining proper staffing levels … the number of Correction Officers has dwindled down to less than 7,600, including the nearly 1,300 Correction Officers who have resigned since 2019 because of the horrific conditions Mayor [Bill] de Blasio’s negligence has created. 

Boscio Jr added:

Thanks to [de Blasio’s] gross mismanagement, we are unable to conduct facility searches for weapons and drugs, inmates aren’t getting their required services, officers, nurses, doctors, and civilians are getting assaulted with impunity. On top of that, officers are being forced to work triple and quadruple shifts without meals and rest.

New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio speak during a news conference on the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in New York on March 2, 2020 in New York City. A female health worker in her 30s who had traveled in Iran contracted the virus and is now isolated at home with symptoms of COVID-19, but is not in serious condition. Cuomo said in a statement that the patient "has been in a controlled situation since arriving to New York." (Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) speak during a news conference March 2, 2020, in New York City. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

A major problem of late has been fixed around housing as gang-affiliated inmates have been placed in housing with their own gangs. The housing situation may be aimed at protecting these inmates from members of rival gangs, but the organization has posed severe safety threats for guards according to Ferraiuolo:

You’re creating an environment where you think it’s safer because the inmates are not fighting with one another in those housing areas because they’re all from the same gang affiliation, but you’ve created the most dangerous environment you could possibly create for one or two correctional officers to work within that dormitory or cell block area. The commissioner doesn’t want to acknowledge this and I know he inherited it but he needs to change it.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi explained that “we are doing all that we can to address the current conditions in our facilities, to improve safety, and to encourage staff to return to work.” The commissioner added, “we are deeply concerned about what is occurring and won’t rest until we create an environment at Rikers in which people feel safe to work and live.”

In 2019, New York officials voted to end the use of the correctional facility in favor of new prisons. Rikers is set to close in 2026. 


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