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The Crisis of Rikers Island | Addie Picker

On an island in the East River, situated between the Bronx and Queens, stands Rikers Island of New York. With sections ranging from low to high security, Rikers serves as one of the primary correctional facilities of New York City. However, a quick glance inside Rikers Island reveals a huge humanitarian crisis - one even greater than those of many other American jails.


Many well-known figures have spent time in or still reside at Rikers, such as rappers Lil Wayne and Tupac Shakur, and Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon. Additionally, with Former President Donald Trump’s CFO Allen Weisselberg being likely sentenced to several months in the New York City prison, the crisis of the facility is once again being brought to light.


Rikers Island opened in 1932 after being converted from military grounds. The newly opened prison helped to accommodate a growing population in New York City and an overflow of inmates in the nearby Blackwell Island Prison. However, shortly after the opening of the facility, stories of abuse and mistreatment within the prison began to circulate. As a continuation of those early problems, Rikers Island now stands as one of the most uncontrolled and dangerous prisons in the United States.


Similar to many American prisons, the presence of gangs pose a huge threat to both the inmates and jail keepers of Rikers. Captured videos from within the prison show inmate to inmate violence, as well as inmate to officer violence. Additionally, interviews from former correctional officers have revealed the true horrors present within the prison walls. As Rikers Island has become extremely dominated by gangs and inmate groups, the degree of control keepers have over the facility has diminished. Of course, this indicates a huge humanitarian crisis. Even in a correctional facility, prisoners, of course, deserve basic human rights, and should not be placed in any danger at the hands of a jail sentence. Rikers is a major facility within New York City’s prison system, therefore efforts must be made to make the jail safer for its many inmates and employees.


Today, Rikers Island has a rough population of about 10,000 inmates, consisting of both convicted prisoners and those waiting for trial. However, in 2021 alone around 16 inmates died at the hands of the system and so far in 2022, 19 have died. With the deaths resulting from suicides, sickness, and violence, changes must be made to Rikers to offer the prisoners a greater quality of life, even in imprisonment.


New York City has recently put plans in place to close down Rikers Island by 2026 and replace the large facility with several, smaller complexes. However, the date has been pushed back by the city to 2027, and will likely ensue further delays in the process. While we wait for those changes to be implemented, it is important to still focus on the humanitarian crisis that remains within. Rikers Island is referred to as a correctional facility, however there is no room for “correction” when inmates are placed in such imminent danger. Without making changes to the system and facility, the city is simply failing their citizens, both from a civil and humanitarian standpoint.


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