October 10, 2017 — Today, in a newly released report from the independent, court-appointed Nunez Monitoring Team, New Yorkers learned that much work remains in reforming the city’s primary jail facility, Rikers Island. The report indicated that rampant cruelty continues at Rikers as guards routinely physically assault people held on the island and remain subject to little-to-no oversight or reprimand for those aggressions.
“This report reaffirms that there is no saving or reforming Rikers Island,” said Glenn E. Martin, founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA and leader of the #CLOSErikers movement. “No amount of incremental reforms can change or redeem that place. It is and always will be ‘Torture Island,’ and the only real solution is to expedite the solution that Mayor Bill de Blasio already promised us he would pursue: close Rikers and ensure that the problems there are never tolerated at smaller, community-based jails.”
The Nunez Team is a result of a 2015 settlement between New York City and the United States Department of Justice. The DOJ had sued the City due to numerous incidents of violence against, and mistreatment of, young adults and other people detained on Rikers Island. In previous reports, the Team found that the City had taken steps toward creating reforms at Rikers. Moreover, responding to community pressure, Mayor de Blasio expressed a commitment to close Rikers but placed that commitment on a ten-year timeline. However, in an April 2017 report, the Team found that guards’ use of brutal violence continued and that guards were still opting for physical confrontation instead of de-escalation when addressing issues with men and women incarcerated at Rikers.
Today’s report indicates that these abuses persist and, in some instances, have actually escalated. The report made clear that guards still act without restraint, and that the physical cruelty against inmates and the mental trauma that ensues plagues Rikers. According to today’s report, the constancy of these problems serves as a dire reminder about how deeply engrained these problems are.
“What New Yorkers learned today is that Rikers Island is irreparably marred by violence and hostility,” said Martin. “Rikers as an institution violates the values and ideals that underpin our criminal justice system. As someone who served time on Rikers Island, I’ve had first-hand experience with what happens there. Everything we learn from these reports confirms our deepest fears about what’s still happening there and about how little has changed.”
Martin and other advocates from across the City have expressed concerns over Rikers for years. While Martin has in the past applauded steps taken to reform New York City’s criminal justice system and its hallmark penal colony, today’s report indicates that much more work remains if the City wants to overcome the problems that led to the DOJ lawsuit several years ago. The Nunez Team is expected to release another report in April 2018.