From Thomas:

Rivers Island is not a state-operated facility but a local jail for the New York City area. While I’m sure it has a segregated area with single cells, it is not a maximum security prison.


From the Gov:

Thanks, Thomas; we’ll clarify. Rikers is described as one of the world’s largest “correctional institutions” and is notorious as one of the very worst such facilities. It’s operated by the New York City Department of Correction, not New York State, but many of those who enjoy its bountiful hospitality for a time are inmates from state facilities who are awaiting trial on other charges. They’re transferred in and transferred out. For that reason, it’s not categorized as a prison –- even a “revolving door prison,” ha –- as that term technically applies to facilities in which inmates are there to serve long sentences.


Rikers truly is huge, a complex of 10 jails on an island in the East River, with an average of 10,000 people incarcerated there on any given day and about 100,000 admitted there each year. Most of the people being detained there are (as Manafort would have been) awaiting trial and are being held without bail or are remanded into custody. It’s an extremely violent place; just in the 365 days of 2015, there were 9,424 assaults committed there. Those are the ones that were documented.

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A little research on the conditions there turned up the fact that the conditions under “PC” --- protective custody, with a lockdown for 23 of every 24 hours --- are identical to those of isolation done for disciplinary reasons. In other words, when officials said that Manafort would be held in isolation “for his own protection,” that meant that they would actually be placing him in the same kind of conditions given to inmates being punished for bad behavior.


According to Wikipedia, In August of 2014, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (ironically, the district that has been targeting Trump), issued a report condemning Rikers for systematic abuse and violation of detainees’ constitutional rights. It describes “the rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force by DOC [Department of Corrections] staff, as well as dangers to inmates including inadequate protection from violence caused by other inmates, a culture that uses violence as a means to control inmates, and heavy use of solitary confinement (‘punitive segregation’) for discipline.” Also detailed is “the guards’ frequent use of violence, including “headshots” (blows to the head or face), particularly in areas without video surveillance.”


The accounts of deaths that have occurred there are quite disturbing, as they have typically happened during a period of isolation during which the victim was denied a doctor’s care or necessary medication (anti-seizure, heart, anti-psychotic, etc.). Jerome Murdough, a homeless veteran being held on accusation of trespassing after being unable to make his $2,500 bail, died during a heat wave after the temperature in his cell soared to over 100 degrees. (As we’ve previously noted, there is no air conditioning.) Prison guards had ignored his calls.


I do see another scandal here: that many people are detained at Rikers while awaiting trial for relatively minor offenses such as trespassing and petty burglary, not just for violent crimes, and some of them don’t come out. They’re in there with the worst of the worst violent offenders. This is indeed a terrible place, whether you call it a prison, jail, detention facility or correctional institution.


Thanks again to Thomas for his clarification, as we want to be as accurate as possible. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that not calling Rikers a prison is not to imply that incarceration there is any better than it would be at a prison; apparently, it’s worse than it would be at most state-run prison facilities.


I also have just found a link to a 2017 documentary called RIKERS: AN AMERICAN JAIL. Haven’t watched yet, but one review says it shows “a highly organized system of violence, where people are treated like they’re less than human and leave detainees more badly damaged than when they entered.” Another: “You think you know that Rikers Island is a violent horror show? This stunning, haunting film tells you one simple and terrifying thing: you have no idea. RIKERS is a testimonial about one of the greatest human rights abuses of our time.”


RIKERS – A Documentary Film


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  • james randolph

    06/20/2019 02:56 PM

    Hey mike -
    I looked at this RIKER'S link. I see this statement:
    Apples to apples? Apples to Bathtubs? Comparison...
    We often see summary executions, people just disappearing, in countries with less incarceration.
    China, probably has less inmates ... no AMERICAN Constitution protections of innocence.
    Any follow up on this perspective?