Did you know that New York City, the place that I call home, spends $168,000 for each criminal that it has behind bars? Yet even so, we have what many rankings deem “one of the worst prisons in the country”, being ranked among prisons in states that spend less than $30,000 on each criminal. The place I’m talking about of course is Riker’s Island, home to 14,000 prisoners, and notorious for making prisoners mentally insane and physically crippled. Just last August, inmate Jason Echevarria had screamed for medical aid after he accidentally ingested toxic detergent. The response? A captain who heard the screams told his guards not to bother him unless “there was a dead body.” Mr. Echevarria died shortly after.
What Mr. Echevarria suffered was not neglect, but rather outright sadism. In 2012, Ronald Spear, a prisoner with kidney problems, was denied medication after requesting it repeatedly. He went on to sue the prison medical facility, an action he said had caused “correction officers retaliating against [him].” He was then found dead a few days later on December 19, 2012. His inmates gave sworn statements witnessing the guards beating him to death.
These vile abuses are not limited to adults. Many teenagers, who served time on Rikers due to petty crimes, were exposed firsthand to “the program.” This was a system in which the sadistic guards actively pit inmates against one another, which led to many teens our age, like 18-year old Christopher Robinson in 2008, to be brutally stabbed or beaten to death.
The list goes on and on. Outraged? You should be. There’s something called the Eighth Amendment that is supposed to protect prisoners from extrajudicial “justice.” Seems like it no longer applies in New York City. It is a shame that the same people who are supposed to be responsible for helping our city’s criminals become law-abiding citizens are in fact, criminals themselves. And the decades of violence at Rikers suggest that the culprit is the not any one group of guards in particular, but instead a part of the complex’s internalized atmosphere.
Rather than fulfilling the purpose of correcting the behavior of the criminals in our society, the prison environment perpetuates itself and harms Riker’s prisoners with inhumane punishment. It is time for New York City’s politicians to take real action. They must introduce measures such as eliminating the practice of solitary confinement(which has caused many a prisoner to become mentally instable), installing independent monitors and inspectors, and make sure prisoners are treated as human beings. The issues on Rikers Island must be addressed to ensure that our tax dollars are not to be wasted unconstitutionally beating up criminals, but rather spent making them productive citizens again.