Rikers Island is the worst place for teen offenders to go, according to a new report by the U.S. Attorney's Office that shows evidence of a breakdown of management and a lax culture of reporting incidents. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
They were supposed to protect them, but correction officers at Rikers Island are said to have beat teenage inmates with what an expert calls unparalleled brutality.
"You didn't have real rules, and you didn't have real principles," said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
The abuse is said to have come when inmates were handcuffed. Other times, inmates were left unsupervised, free to fight.
"Something is very wrong at Rikers, and reform is long overdue," Bharara said.
Reform, or else, federal legal action. Bharara's team is already meeting with the Bronx District Attorney.
While the alleged abuse happened from 2011, to 2013, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's watch, Bharara said, "The people who are now in charge inherited that, and they may not have been the cause of the problem, but it's their responsibility now."
A statement from new Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said reform is underway.
"I have made it clear that Excessive Use of Force, unnecessary or unwarranted use of punitive segregation and corruption of any kind are absolutely unacceptable, and will not be tolerated under my watch," Ponte's statement read, in part.
It's clear much is to be done. Adolescents in the probe accounted for just 6 percent of the daily population at Rikers, but more than one-fifth of all incidents involving serious injuries.
Also alarming to officials is that in several places where inmates are housed, there are no overhead surveillance cameras, and in places where there are, critical footage of violent incidents has gone missing.
Norman Seabrook, the president of the correction officers' union, said the jail has long been mismanaged. His statement added, "There may be a few that react with what you might think is excessive force, but in defense of an officer being assaulted by an inmate, a Correction Officer must use whatever force is necessary to terminate the assault. That also applies to officers protecting inmates, civilians, and property."
Bharara noted that their jobs are difficult, but he said Rikers Island is broken.
"And a broken institution will produce broken people," he said.