No rooms at Rikers: Lack of space for solitary confinement leads to recent spike in violence
Many cons free to roam among the jails’ general populations.
Nearly 1,000 city jail inmates who should be locked in solitary confinement aren’t — because there’s no space.
These misbehaving cons are free to roam among the jails’ general populations, contributing to a recent spike in violence, union officials say.
Proving the point, two men involved in a near-fatal face slashing at Rikers Island last Tuesday should have been locked in solitary cells, jail sources told the Daily News.
“It was really nasty,” said a veteran jail supervisor. “People have said they haven’t seen an attack like this in years.”
The attack involved six inmates, armed with one makeshift blade, who set upon a rival gang member in a Rikers recreation room. The victim, James Gaines, needed dozens of stitches to close the gashes on his face.
He should never have even been in the rec room.
Gaines, who was set to testify in court against a rival Blood gang member, owed 160 days in the solitary “box” for assaulting staff, the sources said.
One of Gaines’ six attackers, Clayton Johnson, also had been hit with 23 days in solo lockup — but never served the time because of the backlog, department officials said.
In all, there are 921 inmates sentenced to solitary confinement who have yet to serve their time, according to testimony at a Nov. 17 City Council hearing.
The lack of space for solitary is contributing to an increase in attacks against officers, according to union officials and jail insiders.
In the past four months, 85 officers were rushed to the hospital after inmate assaults. Department officials maintain that many of these cases involved minor injuries. Only 14 were ultimately labeled serious assaults, resulting in broken bones or major wounds, officials testified Nov. 17.
“I’m concerned by the increase in violence,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Queens) said.
Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro said she’s doing all she can to expand the number of punitive segregation beds. The department plans to increase its existing 862 solitary beds by 45% in the coming months, she said. “We are building them whenever possible,” department spokeswoman Sharman Stein said.
Still, jail officials privately admit the issue has long plagued the department. It costs the cash-strapped department thousands of dollars to convert jail cells into solitary sections. The so-called “bing” cells also require extra staffing because guards must escort these inmates everywhere.
Schriro insisted that inmates accused of attacking others are immediately separated and punished. Only inmates rapped for more minor infractions — failing to listen to an officer’s order or testing positive for drugs — remain free until solitary space opens, she said. It’s unclear, however, how Gaines and Johnson avoided solitary confinement. Overall, violence within the city’s 14 jail facilities has dropped, Schriro said.
There have been 15 stabbings and slashings in the past four months, down 21% from the 19 attacks during the same period last year. That category is commonly cited as the primary indicator of violence.