Monday, October 11, 2021

Speaking of Jails (and prisons)

When Americans think of prisons or jails, there are two types we think of, white collar "low conflict" prisons and death traps. Riker's Island is a death trap. And it is part of the "prison complex" where prisoners often never leave. 

This was written today about Riker's...

The situation in the notorious Rikers Island jail complex has spiraled out of control in recent months, and detainees have had free rein inside. They are in near-total control of entire units in some buildings.

The rest of that article is below the jump.

In a slightly exceptional case (although not rare enough) an 18 year old black man was killed after being in Riker's for 16 months - he was arrested at 17 and shipped to Riker's to await trial. What did he do? Nothing. He was waiting trail for a misdemeanor offense and couldn't afford the $10,000 bail. For 16 months the city wasn't ready to even START his prosecution, so they left him there. Where the young man was raped for months before being killed. Note that the longest possible sentence for this misdemeanor was 1 year!

Riker's Island. It is the combined jail for each borough in the city.

How did it get this way? Was it always this way? Historically in the US, no - it wasn't always this way or planned to be this way. Prisons were - and in most western countries still are - places for people to be punished by taking away their freedom AND places of rehabilitation. Remember the prison library in Shawshank Redemption? Those libraries are gone. Remember the asylums in 12 Monkeys? Those mentally ill people are put into prisons now.

So, why are prisons now hell holes? Starting in the1980s prisons were outsourced to various corporations. Under Ronald Reagan people worried less about how to rehabilitate people and more how to lock them up and stop worrying. Now, to be fair, the 1970s and early 1980s were petty damn crime ridden. The statistics on murder, property crimes and other crimes were much higher than now and growing. People were afraid, whether from the media hype or from real like, it doesn't matter. Crimes were huge and growing until the 1990s.

So the outsourcing was less about making them back into members of society and more "just take them out of our sight". Of course, in hindsight, the current issues were obviously coming. Private prisons get a dollar amount per prisoner. And, as a capitalistic society, we try to maximize profits. So cuts were made to quality of food. Cuts were made to anything rehabilitory. Prisons no longer cared about rehabilitating, only punishing. And, since it was out of view for most of us, and nearly all politicians (remember, they go to country club prisons), we ignored it. 

WE don't even see it. When a rich or famous person goes to jail, they can actually pay to go to a better local prison somewhere in the system. (This may be an LA only thing, but you don't think stars sit in prison, do you? Teh city of Downey has nice prison cells they rent out to stars serving sentences.)

Now, instead of rehabilitated prisoners with skills, after their sentence we release criminals that are more hardened, more angry and have no skills. No wonder we say it is a revolving door back to prison. Our society doesn't care. Like guns, wide open spaces, soaring national parks and extreme poverty - this is a US thing. Other countries still think their citizens are worthwhile and try to rehabilitate them back to society. We do not think this way. TV even jokes about prison rape all the time. We think prisoners deserve it, not having any idea what they did.

Okay now the full article on to the shit show with the inmates running the asylum - but real.

My colleagues Jan Ransom, Jonah E. Bromwich and Rebecca Davis O’Brien conducted more than two dozen interviews and extensive reviews of court filings and city records. They write that the extent of the lawlessness at Rikers has become difficult to imagine.

Detainees, not correction officers, have ushered incarcerated people to and from their dorms. Detainees have wandered in and out of off-limits areas like break rooms and have flouted rules about smoking tobacco and synthetic marijuana. Sometimes they have answered phones that were supposed to be staffed by guards. Several detainees have pilfered keys and used them to free other incarcerated people, who went on to commit acts of violence.

The crisis began with the coronavirus pandemic. More than 2,200 employees of the Department of Correction have been infected with the virus, leading to acute staffing shortages. In recent months, Rikers has been plagued by staff shortages linked to absenteeism.

The 413-acre jail compound in the East River has been plagued by gangs, drugs and violence for decades and has suffered from mismanagement and neglect worsened by the pandemic and the severe staffing crisis. The unruliness has not been limited to incarcerated people. Correction officers have taken part in beatings. Last week, a guard was charged with providing a razor blade to a detainee who planned to use it as a weapon.

Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged 11 months after taking office in 2014 that he had underestimated the dysfunction that made it possible for violence to dominate at Rikers, and in 2017, he promised to shut down the complex. De Blasio visited Rikers last month for the first time in four years — on the same day that three Democrats on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said they wanted to hear from him about the “unacceptable conditions” there. Asked after his tour what had upset him the most, de Blasio said, “The whole thing upsets me.”

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