There’s lots of brutality...Horrible brutality.
July 14, 2014 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Rikers: Where Mental Illness Meets Brutality in Jail

Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.


Relevant reading-

This report by the Treatment Advocacy Center summarizes findings from a national survey of state and county corrections systems on mental illness treatment practices in prison and jail facilities. Among the highlights includes the finding that in 2012, there were 10 times the number of individuals with mental disorders in prisons and jails than in state hospitals... To view the report click here.*
posted by jammy (11 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
"A terrible place, where even the name sounds like some obscure punishment: The rikers are there, and if you aren't careful, you'll get riked." Donald E. Westlake, Bad News
posted by dannyboybell at 4:01 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

The worst part of this is that the jailers beat the shit out of mentally ill inmates, sometimes badly enough that they have to be hospitalized, and then the *inmate* is charged with assault and battery on a correctional employee.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:13 PM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a graph that shows how the deinstitutionalization of the 1960s onwards has moved the mentally ill population out of mental institutions and, effectively, into jails. (source)
posted by gemutlichkeit at 5:54 PM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's heartbreaking. And it brings up a million questions about the systemic causes that lead to such a horrific place like RI. A culture of dehumanizing prisoners is what leads to remorseless, vengeful, violent wardens.

One thing that may help is always-on cameras mounted to the guards. They're cheap, they'd pay for themselves (in future legal costs), and they'd help both parties involved. They just have to ensure that they cannot be tampered with -- e.g. set it up so that they automatically turn off in areas where the guards cannot interact with prisoners, that way there's no reason to have an off switch. Any privacy the guards need can be attained near their desks.
posted by spiderskull at 6:23 PM on July 14, 2014

Are there organizations that advocate/lobby for requiring prison guards to wear body cams, or is it such a non-starter nationwide that no such organization exists yet?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:24 PM on July 14, 2014

Who would be watching these hypothetical body-cams, other guards? That's just turtles all the way down. TFA gives an anecdote of guards dragging a man into an exam room and beating him severely as medical employees begged them to stop, and left the exam room covered in the man's blood. It's not as though there's no evidence or nobody knows what is happening, it's that mentally ill inmates, or really inmates in general, don't have the power to do anything about it. More guarding isn't going to solve that problem.

I actually wonder somewhat about these mental illness diagnoses in the first place, and what standard inmates' behavior is being judged by. Inmates responding to conditions like those in the article with even fairly extreme displays of anger and despair actually *doesn't* sound like evidence of those inmates being mentally ill. Not to say that the inmates featured in the article *aren't* also mentally ill, but the specific behavior that the article talked didn't seem like it was necessarily linked with any mental illness. For example, "The pain [of being beaten by the guards] was unbearable, said Mr. Bautista, who was later told he had depression." Who later told Mr. Bautista he had depression, and why? How does his possible depression play into him being beaten by Rikers' guards?

I'm wondering if people are being labeled as mentally ill because they're difficult or "weak"-seeming prisoners. I'm wondering if their low status *within* the prison is making them more likely to receive mental illness diagnoses, to further discredit them as unreliable witnesses to the guards' and other inmates' brutality or as a way to "justify" that brutality. I mean on a systemic level, and not necessarily as the result of any individual's conscious decision or maliciousness. Statements (in the NYT article) only reinforce that suspicion: "But the definition of “seriously mentally ill” includes only a small percentage of inmates who have received particular diagnoses, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and meet certain criteria relating to their condition."

Likely there are many inmates who genuinely are mentally ill and it likely seriously effects their behavior, but it doesn't sound like the inmates being *labeled* as mentally ill are necessarily the ones who most need treatment for mental illness, it sounds like the ones who are labeled are the ones who are the most trouble for the guards and who the guards are most brutal toward. And I wonder if those diagnoses are a systemic silencing tactic more than anything else.
posted by rue72 at 11:49 PM on July 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

"Who would be watching these hypothetical body-cams, other guards? That's just turtles all the way down."

The reporter that requested it under the sunshine laws? The lawyer for the person whose rights were being violated? The insurance company trying to figure out if they have to pay lawsuits for brutality?

Cameras on law enforcement (and jailers) can be powerful tools for change.
posted by el io at 12:55 AM on July 15, 2014

Wow, that picture and passage about Mr. Seabrook, head of the Correctional Officers' Benevolent's like something out of a dystopian novel.

“Do I have a correction officer here or there that goes over and beyond? I’m not going to say that I don’t,” he said. “That’s just like having a police officer that fires 41 shots.”


He asked Dr. Bassett how she would feel if his officers suddenly disappeared from the cellblock, leaving her alone with 100 vicious inmates — and then he answered his own question.

You’d be soiling your pants, he told her. (His words were more graphic.)

“This jail belongs to us,” Mr. Seabrook yelled. “It does not belong to the department of mental health.”

posted by freejinn at 8:00 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't even comment on this because I'm entering HULK SMASH levels of rage.

Improperly labeled/dx or not, MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE ARE STILL PEOPLE FFS
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:04 AM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, this has reminded me to write to my friend in jail.
posted by malocchio at 1:25 PM on July 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yea FFFM, basically any time i read an article like this i have to go take a step outside and ride my bike around and just take a fucking breather for a minute because it's so perfectly rage inducing.
posted by emptythought at 4:05 PM on July 15, 2014

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