Rikers Island lock-ins are unethical


Robert Crow

Robert Crow | CreativeCommons

The Editorial Board

A report published by the Board of Correction on Oct. 24 found that New York City jails have grown more prolific in using lockdowns, or lock-ins, to restore order.

The official report fails to emphasize, however, just how detrimental pseudo-solitary confinement as a form of disciplinary tool affects an inmate’s mental and physical health.

During a lockdown, inmates must remain in their cells and are denied access to many Minimum Standards-mandated services, which includes religious services, showers, health services, the law library and more.

The report states that the Department of Correction has been increasing its use of extended lock-ins since February of this year.

The report also called out repeat offenders, including two large Rikers jails, Robert N. Davoren Center and the George R. Vierno Center, which house young inmates, ages 18 through 21, and maximum-security inmates, respectively, where lockdowns have become alarmingly regular.

“When individuals who enter our custody are the most violent people in the community, it is likely that these individuals, who are often repeat offenders, will intensify their aggression when they are housed in our facilities, especially if they are gang affiliated,” Correction Commissioner Louis A. Molina said.

The DOC defended its use of lock-ins saying that this supposed “correctional tool” has reduced violence in the RNDC, where 45% of inmates were detained for violent crimes.

It reported 4,400 weapons confiscated department-wide since September, 821 of which were found in the RNDC.

“It is every correctional institution’s mission to maintain a safe environment for all staff and detainees, and the use of lockdowns is not to be punitive but to restore order and conduct searches, something that anyone with correctional experience is aware of, but which the report glosses over,” Molina added.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, Assembly Member Karines Reyes and council members Sandy Nurse, Jennifer Gutiérrez, and Lincoln Restler all made an unannounced visit to the George R. Vierno Center (GRVC), where 28-year-old Erick Tavira died while awaiting his trial. His death was ruled a suicide.

“We have already lost 17 New Yorkers this year to New York City’s jail system. Based on what we saw and heard today, unless there are swift and dramatic changes, more people are going to die,” Velázquez said.

Prisoners and staff at GRVC reportedly experienced 25 hour lockdowns on a regular basis, an alarming departure from local jail standards which mandate no more than two hours in the cell by day and eight by night.

The politicians went on to say that the inmates were getting agitated due to correction officials not telling them why they are being put into solitary confinement.

With the death count rising, it is paramount that city jails find an ethical way to deal with violence within their walls, such that its inmates lives are not at risk.