Inmate Safety in New York City's Rikers Island Jail Complex
New York's criminal defense attorneys represent clients who are accused of all manner of crimes, from check fraud to drug possession to murder. No matter who hires them, all attorneys are faced with the added anxiety a defendant feels when they know that one of America's largest and most notorious penal colonies await them: Rikers Island. Their lives, they reasonably conclude, are in their attorneys' hands.
You Asked For It
Recent convictions of Rikers Island guards indicate that one's safety in jail could be subject to the whims of a corrupt staff. Danger can exist even without some bad apple running his own personal "fight club", as the media called it. Even an indifferent corrections officer can add an extra layer of potential harm for an inmate. Inmates say that when it comes to breaking up fights among inmates, the guards take a "don't look at me, tough guy" stance. This has emboldened the numerous inner-city gangs that New York's criminal defense attorneys say are the de facto bosses on Rikers Island.
A Double-Edged Shank
Even the most professional and compassionate corrections officers have good reason to share the concerns of inmates with regard to personal safety. Frequently outnumbered by ratios as high as 30 to 1, they are more likely to refrain from physically engaging altercations until they absolutely have to, and then do so with the blunt force of fear and frustration.
Not only do Rikers Island guards face the risk of random individual attacks, there is also the inevitable issue of prisoner unrest. The most recent riot, in late March of 2010, left 13 officers injured. Some were beaten with their own batons. The ensuing crackdown put three inmates in the infirmary. Every lawyer must ponder these grisly facts as they represent any person accused of a crime in the Big - some say bad - apple.
Paul J grew up with a view of Rikers Island from his window. He now works as a journalist and advocate online.
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