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Society

RTX1NA87
Rikers Island: Prison Stories - 06 Aug 2015
Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex that houses about 9,800 inmates, is one of the largest in the United States. It is also one of the most troubled.

After several inmate deaths, decades of lawsuits alleging inmate abuse and a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, the city in June agreed to let a federal monitor oversee reforms at the jail, which sits on a 413-acre bean-shaped island in the East River between the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx.
USA-RIKERS/
RTX1MU3O
August 03, 2015
Jared Peartree, 19, poses for a photograph outside his grandmother's house in the Brooklyn borough of...
New York, UNITED STATES
Peartree, 19, poses for a photograph outside his grandmother's house in the Brooklyn borough of New York...
Jared Peartree, 19, poses for a photograph outside his grandmother's house in the Brooklyn borough of New York, October 2, 2014. Peartree says he was 18 and 19 years-old when he was incarcerated on Rikers Island from 2013 to 2014 because "My past kinda caught up with me." In an incident where inmates did not respond to a lock-in, Peartree says officers came in and sprayed inmates with multiple types of pepper spray, including one he refers to as MK9 until he says his "skin feel like it's coming off, can't breathe, you can't see, so you don't know what to do." He also said he was put into flexicuffs which were so tight that "From my hands to my elbow is blue." Peartree further says the inmates were beaten by "wooden sticks, four inches thick." Before the interview is over, Peartree says, "I recommend anybody from the age 16 to 21 to not go to Rikers Island. It's like the younger you are, that's the one they actually will pick on the most. I turned 19 in there too, so I went with the adults. And when they with the adults, it's much more respect. They don't do the things they do with adolescents. They don't try to put their hands on them or none of that. It's like they give you your equal rights. And I think that's not fair cause we younger." Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country which houses around 9,800 prisoners, came under scrutiny after the Justice Department in August 2014 issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff. In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said that, "Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte's appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility." The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte's "top priority" and that "DOC has a zero-tolerance police with regards to abuse." REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff
USA-RIKERS/
RTX1MUAX
August 03, 2015
Damien Norman, 20, poses for a photograph in his apartment in the Bronx borough of New York, December...
New York, UNITED STATES
Norman, 20, poses for a photograph in his apartment in the Bronx borough of New York
Damien Norman, 20, poses for a photograph in his apartment in the Bronx borough of New York, December 19, 2014. Norman says he was 17 years-old while imprisoned and awaiting trial on Rikers Island in 2012 for robbery. During his incarceration Norman says his wrist was broken during an incident involving a correctional officer and he was sent to solitary confinement immediately after. Norman said that during one prison lockdown, a guard "Bended my wrist all the way up to the highest and it popped." Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country which houses around 9,800 prisoners, came under scrutiny after the Justice Department in August 2014 issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff. In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said that, "Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte's appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility." The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte's "top priority" and that "DOC has a zero-tolerance police with regards to abuse." Reuters has been unable to independently verify the statements provided by the individual in this portrait. Picture taken December 19, 2014. REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff
USA-RIKERS/
RTX1MUFX
August 03, 2015
Zumana Karamoko, 19, poses for a photograph on the porch of his family residence in Harlem, New York...
New York, UNITED STATES
Karamoko, 19, poses for a photograph on the porch of his family residence in Harlem, New York
Zumana Karamoko, 19, poses for a photograph on the porch of his family residence in Harlem, New York January 25, 2015. Karamoko says he was 16 years-old when he was incarcerated on Rikers Island in 2012 for armed robbery and two assaults. In an incident after a lockdown, Karamoko says an officer pulled him out of a class, escorted him into another room and started beating him. Karamoko says he attempted to fight back and was beaten by a group of officers and who then hit him with pepper-spray. "When the riot shield guys came, they all jumped me. And then they dragged me all the way to the intake. And I was leaking from my head," he said. Karamoko, who said he was charged and sentenced for assaulting an officer in the incident further states, "My experience at Rikers Island was crazy. The COs (correctional officers) treat inmates bad in there." Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country which houses around 9,800 prisoners, came under scrutiny after the Justice Department in August 2014 issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff. In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said that, "Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte's appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility." The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte's "top priority" and that "DOC has a zero-tolerance police with regards to abuse." Reuters has been unable to independently verify the statements provided by the individual in this portrait. Picture taken January 25, 2015. REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff
USA-RIKERS/
RTX1MUFV
August 03, 2015
Donte Walker, 21, poses for a photograph at a bus stop outside his residence in Poughkeepsie, New York,...
Poughkeepsie, UNITED STATES
Walker, 21, poses for a photograph at a bus stop outside his residence in Poughkeepsie, New York
Donte Walker, 21, poses for a photograph at a bus stop outside his residence in Poughkeepsie, New York, October 5, 2014. Walker says he was the age of 16 through 18 years-old when he was detained and served time on Rikers Island from 2010 to 2012 for assault, possession of firearm and armed robbery. After one altercation with another inmate, Walker says he was put in flexicuffs and punched "Mad hard, like real hard" in the face by a correctional officer. When asked if he reported the incident he said, "Cause who you report it to? You gonna report it to another CO (correctional officer) which he's cool with. He probably eats lunch with everyday. And he's gonna tell him and now they gonna whoop your ass even more." Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country which houses around 9,800 prisoners, came under scrutiny after the Justice Department in August 2014 issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff. In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said that, "Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte's appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility." The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte's "top priority" and that "DOC has a zero-tolerance police with regards to abuse." Reuters has been unable to independently verify the statements provided by the individual in this portrait. Picture taken October 5, 2014. REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff
USA-RIKERS/
RTX1MUB0
August 03, 2015
Gregory Gonzalez, 25, poses for a photograph at a friend's apartment complex in the Bronx borough of...
New York, UNITED STATES
Gonzalez, 25, poses for a photograph at a friend's apartment complex in the Bronx borough of New York...
Gregory Gonzalez, 25, poses for a photograph at a friend's apartment complex in the Bronx borough of New York, October 13, 2014. Gonzalez says he was incarcerated on Rikers Island when he was 18 years-old from 2008 to 2009. Gonzalez says he was sent to Rikers for not completing community service and not paying overdue tickets. During his two months on Rikers Island, Gonzalez says he was slapped in the face and punched in his ribs by correctional officers for turning his sock inside-out incorrectly after a visit from his mother. Describing the incident Gonzalez says, "I just got slapped while my hands were on the wall, right in the face. After he slapped me, I put my hands back on the wall and they started to punch me in my ribs and my body and I fell to the ground." Gregory says he was told "Oh, well it happens" when he reported the incident to another officer. Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country which houses around 9,800 prisoners, came under scrutiny after the Justice Department in August 2014 issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff. In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said that, "Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte's appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility." The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte's "top priority" and that "DOC has a zero-tolerance police with regards to abuse." Reuters has been unable to independently verify the statements provided by the individual in this portrait. Picture taken October 13, 2014. REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff
USA-RIKERS/
RTX1MUAZ
August 03, 2015
Eric Harmon, 20, poses for a photograph at a playground near his house in the Bronx borough of New York,...
New York, UNITED STATES
Harmon, 20, poses for a photograph at a playground near his house in the Bronx borough of New York
Eric Harmon, 20, poses for a photograph at a playground near his house in the Bronx borough of New York, January 17, 2015. Harmon says he was incarcerated on Rikers Island from 2010 to 2011 when he was sixteen years old, for a drug charge. In one incident, Harmon says he was taken to a room without cameras. He says he was hit by a correctional officer and he struck back. Following the exchange, Harmon says other correctional officers entered the room and continued to strike him. "He smacked me. Me and him started fighting. A couple other COs (correctional officers) jumped in. They beat me up for a little bit." Harmon says he did not report the incident because, "I never seen a good outcome of someone reporting a CO." Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country which houses around 9,800 prisoners, came under scrutiny after the Justice Department in August 2014 issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff. In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said that, "Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte's appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility." The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte's "top priority" and that "DOC has a zero-tolerance police with regards to abuse." Reuters has been unable to independently verify the statements provided by the individual in this portrait. Picture taken January 17, 2015. REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff
USA-RIKERS/
RTX1MUA9
August 03, 2015
Eric, 19, who did not want to share his full name, poses for a photograph in a playground outside his...
New York, UNITED STATES
Eric, 19, who did not want to share his full name, poses for a photograph in a playground outside his...
Eric, 19, who did not want to share his full name, poses for a photograph in a playground outside his residence in the Bronx borough of New York, November 20, 2014. Eric says he was 17 years-old in 2012 when he was incarcerated on Rikers Island for committing "A crime which was illegal." During a search on the school grounds where inmates attend class, Eric says he was ordered to strip naked. When he refused, he says he "Got put in a headlock, officers started beating on me, punching me in my head, my body, kicking me, had me in fetal position, stomping on me." Directly after the incident Eric says the officers "put me in flexicuffs then they (pepper) spray." Eric say he was sent to solitary confinement after the incident because officers "Said I assaulted an officer and that was that." When describing his experience at Rikers, he says "Coming from the street to there just had me on guard. Being observant and just didn't want to become a victim, which I did. After that, it just made me be more aggressive and hostile." Rikers, one of the largest jail complexes in the country which houses around 9,800 prisoners, came under scrutiny after the Justice Department in August 2014 issued a report that described a pattern of violent abuse of male inmates aged 16 to 18 by jail staff. In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said that, "Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte's appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility." The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte's "top priority" and that "DOC has a zero-tolerance police with regards to abuse." Reuters has been unable to independently verify the statements provided by the individual in this portrait. Picture taken November 20, 2014. REUTERS/Elizabeth Shafiroff
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