The federal government claims the New York City Department of Correction violated the civil rights of male teenagers held at Rikers Island by allowing correction officers to get away with unnecessary and excessive force.
The office of U.S. attorney Preet Bharara released its findings in a 97-page report that detailed a “deep-seated culture of violence” against young inmates at the jail complex, committed by guards who had little fear of punishment, the New York Times reported.
The report indicated there was a powerful code of silence among the Rikers staff, as well as a virtually useless system for investigating attacks by guards. This led to an unacceptable number of injuries suffered by youthful inmates, according to the report.
The report also found guards too often relied on an excessive and inappropriate degree on solitary confinement to punish teenage inmates, placing them in punitive segregation for months at a time, the New York Times reported.
The federal investigation focused specifically on the three Rikers jails that house male inmates aged 16 to 18, but the report concluded that this behavior might exist in the complex’s seven other jails where adult men and women are kept.
Staffers at Rikers used force 565 times last year against an average youth population of 682 inmates on Rikers Island, resulting in more than 1,000 injuries, The Associated Press reported. The 565 reports of use-of-force incidents represented an increase from 517 in 2012.
Meanwhile, fighting among inmates was also widespread within the juvenile system, with 845 altercations reported last year, up from 795 in 2012, according to The Associated Press.
The report said that as of October 2012, staff members had subjected nearly 44 percent of the adolescent male population in custody as to a use of force at least once.
According to the New York Times, correction officers hit youth males in the head and face at “an alarming rate” as punishment, even at times when inmates posed no threat. Officers are also accused of taking inmates to isolated areas for beatings out of view of video cameras. Many inmates were so afraid of the violence that they asked to go to solitary confinement for their own protection, the report said.
The report also revealed that officers often went unpunished, even when there was strong evidence of serious violations. When an investigation did take place it often superficial, and incident reports were frequently incomplete, misleading or intentionally falsified, the New York Times reported.
“The extremely high rates of violence and excessive use of solitary confinement for adolescent males uncovered by this investigation are inappropriate and unacceptable,’” Attorney General Eric Holder told The Associated Press.