Fewer Serious Assaults At Rikers Island

Efforts to reduce violence at Rikers begin to show success. On September 19, 2017, the Department of Corrections reported that, since 2014, Corrections has seen a significant drop in serious assaults on staff, serious injury to inmates, and use of force.

After the City settled the Nunez v. City of New York case in 2015, U.S. District Court Judge Laura T. Swain appointed Steve J. Martin as Monitor to report on the New York City Department of Correction’s efforts to advance the reforms in the consent decree. The consent decree is intended to create an environment that protects both Corrections employees and inmates, and to dismantle the decades-long culture of violence in these facilities.

The efforts of the City show signs of success that violence is declining in New York prisons with respect to assaults by inmate or staff. In 2017 there has been a 65 percent drop in assaults on staff with a serious injury compared to 2014. In 2014 the rate was 92 assaults per 1,000 inmates compared to 32 assaults per 1,000 inmates in 2017.  Attacks on staff with minor injury dropped 9 percent in the last three years, from 439 in 2014 to 398 in 2017. Serious injury to inmates due to inmate assaults and fights has decreased 11percent from 2014. Corrections credits the reduction in violence in jails to better staffing and officer training in de-escalation tactics.

There has also been a drop in staff use of force against inmates following the Nunez consent decree. In 2014 there was 161 staff use of force incidents per 1,000 inmates compared to 75 incidents in 2017. There has been a 53 percent decrease in serious injury from staff use of force, but only an 8 percent decrease in minor injury from use of force.

Monitor Martin’s report stated that use of force is still an issue. Serious use of force continued in the form of head strikes, wall slams, and violent takedowns often involving neck/chokeholds. There have been instances in which inmates have been subjected to multiple forms of problematic force in a single incident. Based on preliminary assessments, some of the head strikes appeared necessary for the safety of the staff person, but many were utilized to punish, discipline, assault or retaliate against an inmate.

The statistics show positive signs, but jail violence is still an ongoing issue. On October 25, 2017, Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann stated, “There are far too many stabbings and slashings. We must always work to do better. I believe that by supporting our staff, expanding the reforms that have already begun showing positive results and providing inmates with opportunities for change, that we will create safer jail environments for staff, visitors, and individuals in our custody.”

By: David Mateen (David is a student at New York Law School, Class of 2019).

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