Rikers Island Is a Brutal Hellhole for Mentally Ill Inmates

A new report from the New York Times elaborates on what became painfully evident after two recent deaths on Rikers Island: New York's most notorious prison is a violent, terrifying place, especially for people with mental illnesses.

The Times focuses on a report from New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which details 129 altercations between inmates and corrections officers in which prisoners suffered "serious injuries." Seventy-seven percent of the injured were mentally ill.

One such inmate is Jose Bautista, who was viciously beaten by guards after he attempted to hang himself with his underwear.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell's highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

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Later, investigators from four city agencies — the Board of Correction, the Department of Correction, the health department and the office of the medical examiner — watched the video, and all reached the same conclusion. "It can be clearly seen that officers are punching this inmate," wrote Kennith Armstead of the Correction Board, which monitors conditions at Rikers and investigates serious incidents.

Officers delayed for hours before taking Bautista to Elmhurst Hospital Center. The Times reports he left a medical clinic on Rikers at 5:45 p.m. on January 11 and arrived at the hospital at 2:47 a.m. the next day, despite its being only a 15-minute drive from the prison.

There's also the case of Carlos Gonzalez, an inmate with depression and schizophrenia, who was beaten for continuing to hold hands with his fiancé in a visiting room after a guard told him to stop.

The guard threw him against a wall and told him to apologize for continuing to hold on, according to a Legal Aid Society complaint. In Mr. Gonzalez's version of the events, he said he was sorry, but the guard told him to say it louder. When Mr. Gonzalez, who was arrested for violating an order of protection, refused, he said two guards punched him in the face. Mr. Gonzalez's eardrum was ruptured, and he was so bloodied the guards made him change into a clean jumpsuit before he was taken to a clinic and later to Elmhurst Hospital Center.

And Brian Mack, whose eye socket was broken by a guard after he complained that officers were taking prisoners' food.

The captain struck him in the eye with his radio and the officer punched him in his jaw, Mr. Mack told investigators from the correction board.

Medical workers later reported that he had sustained "serious head trauma," including a broken jaw and eye socket. Correction Department officials claimed Mr. Mack's injuries came from a fight with other inmates, but board investigators could find no record of such a fight in the department's log books.

The most brutal incident detailed involved Andre Lane, who, after splashing guards with a liquid that may have been urine, was handcuffed to a gurney, wheeled to an area with no security cameras, and savagely beaten by several officers.

In the clinic that night, Mr. Lane said, Captain Marcel kept yelling, "Stop resisting."

"How can I be resisting when I'm cuffed to the gurney?" Mr. Lane said.

"One officer took a knuckle brace and put it on his hands, just started hitting me, boom, boom," he said. "My head started leaking blood, and that's when I started getting dizzy and dizzy and dizzy," he said, adding that he eventually passed out.

When he came to, he said, "I'm bloodied up, my teeth is all bloody, my mouth is all bloody. I got blood all down my throat."

No officers have been prosecuted or seen administrative charges in any of the 129 incidents in the report.

[Image via AP]