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Rikers Island is New York Citymarker's jail facility, as well as the name of the island on which it sits, in the East Rivermarker between Queensmarker and the mainland Bronxmarker, adjacent to the runways of LaGuardia Airportmarker. The island itself is part of the borough of the Bronx, though it is included as part of Queens Community Board 1 and has a Queens ZIP code. The jail complex, operated by the New York City Department of Correction, has a budget of $860 million a year, a staff of 10,000 officers and 1,500 civilians to control an inmate population of 14,000. The official permanent population of the island, as reported by the United States Census Bureau, was 12,780 as of the 2000 census.

The island is named after Abraham Rycken, a Dutch settler who moved to Long Islandmarker in 1638 and whose descendants owned Rikers Island until 1884, when it was sold to the city for $180,000. It has been used as a jail ever since.

Rikers Island jail

The average daily inmate population is about 14,000. The daytime population (including staff) can be 20,000 or more.

The facility, which consists of ten jails, holds local offenders who are awaiting trial and cannot afford or cannot obtain bail or were not given bail from a judge, those serving sentences of one year or less, and those temporarily placed there pending transfer to another facility.

The only access to the facility is from Queensmarker, over the unmarked 4,200-foot (1.28 km) three-lane Francis Buono Bridgemarker, dedicated on November 22, 1966, by Mayor John Lindsay. Before the bridge was constructed, the only access to the island was by ferry. Transportation is also provided by the Q100 Limited stop bus service, which runs around-the-clock. There are also privately-operated shuttles that connect the parking lot at the south end to the island. Bus service within the island for visitors visiting inmates is provided by the New York City Department of Correction.

The North Infirmary Command, which used to be called the Rikers Island Infirmary, is used to house inmates requiring extreme protective custody, inmates with special health needs, mentally ill inmates, and inmates undergoing drug detoxification, as well as some regular inmates. The rest of the facilities, all built in the last 67 years, make up this city of jails. There is also the Vernon C.marker Bain Correctional Centermarker, a floating barge (described below). New York City's jail system has become something of a small town. There are schools, medical clinics, ball fields, chapels, gyms, drug rehab programs, grocery stores, barbershops, a bakery, a laundromat, a power plant, a track, a tailor shop, a print shop, a bus depot and even a car wash. Rikers Island has been described as the world's largest penal colony.


The island was used as a military training ground for both white and U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War. The first regiment to use the Island was the Ninth New York Infantry, also known as Hawkin's Zouaves, which arrived there on May 15, 1861. Hawkins' Zouaves was followed by the 36th New York State Volunteers on June 23, which was followed by the Anderson Zouaves on July 15, 1861. The Anderson Zouaves were commanded by John Lafayette Riker who was related to the owners of the island. The camp of the Anderson Zouaves was named Camp Astor in compliment to millionaire John Jacob Astor Jr. who provided funding for the army, and who appears to have made a significant contribution to the raising of the Anderson Zouaves in particular, with the Astor ladies being credited with the manufacture of the zouave uniforms worn by the recruits of this regiment. Despite the fact that Riker's Island was subsequently used by numerous Civil War regiments, the name "Camp Astor" was specific to the Anderson Zouaves and did not become a general name for the military encampment on the island.

The island was bought by New York City from the Ryker family in 1884 for $180,000 and was used as a jail farm. The facility was commonly referred to by New Yorkers as simply "The Island"; for example, that is what it is called in O. Henry's 1905 short story The Cop and the Anthem.

In 1932, the city opened a jail for men on the island to replace its dilapidated jail on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Islandmarker). A landfill was added to the island in 1954. It enlarged the original 90 acre island to , enabling the jail facilities to expand. The original penitentiary building, completed in 1935 was called HDM or the House of Detention for Men, became a maximum security facility called the James A. Thomas Center and closed due to structural issues in 2000.

During Mayor David Dinkins's term as mayor of New York, the jail filled to overflowing, and an 800-bed barge was installed on the East Rivermarker to accommodate the extra inmates. The barge is called the Vernon C.marker Bain Correctional Centermarker, or V.C.B.C./ VCBC, and was formerly known as MTF3 (for Maritime Facility #3). VCBC is located at 1 Halleck St, Bronx, NY 10474, at the end of Hunts Point, near the recently relocated Fulton Fish Marketmarker. It is known simply as "The Boat." The keel for the Vernon C. Bain was laid in 1989 at the Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans La. Upon completion, V.C.B.C was towed up from Louisiana to its current mooring, and attached to two Crandall Arms. It opened for use as a facility in 1992. Originally it had been leased to the NYC Dept. of Juvenile Justice, while Spofford Juvenile detention center was under reconstruction. While it is called MTF 3, numbers 1 and 2 were reconstructed British military transport barges used during the Falklands War, Both of which could house 800 soldiers, but when converted, only 200 inmates. MTF 1 and 2 were anchored on either side of Manhattan. at East River pier 17, and over by about 20th street in the Hudson River. In addition there were two smaller 1930's era Staten Island Ferry Boats, both converted to house 162 inmates each. The ferry boats were sold for salvage about 2003, and the owner of the shipyard that built VCBC bought the two BIBBY's (British Industries Boat Building Yard). VCBC is the only vessel of its type in the world, built by Avondale Shipyardmarker. Prior to modification for use by New York City, it cost $161 million to construct. The initial plan for acquiring the vessel, because of the way New York City makes capital purchases, had to have begun at least five years before the keel was laid, or during the tenure of Ed Koch, the Mayor before Mayor Dinkins. Rudolf Giuliani was not elected as Mayor of New York City until November 1993, and was sworn in in January 1994, the boat had been in service for two years prior to that date.

A drawing by artist Salvador DalĂ­, done as an apology because he was unable to attend a talk about art for the prisoners at Rikers Island, hung in the inmate dining room in J.A.T.C.(HDM) from 1965 to 1981, when it was moved to the prison lobby in A.M.K.C. (C95) for safekeeping. The drawing was stolen in March 2003 and replaced with a fake; three Correction Officers, and an Assistant Deputy Warden were arrested and charged, and though three later pled guilty and one was acquitted, the drawing has not been recovered.

Notable current and former inmates include Sid Vicious, Tupac Shakur, Plaxico Burress and Mark David Chapman.

"Gay housing"

The segregated unit at Rikers for LGBT prisoners, known as "gay housing," was closed in December 2005 citing a need to improve security. The unit had opened in the 1970s due to concerns about abuse of LGBT prisoners in pretrial detention. The New York City Department of Corrections' widely criticised plan was to restructure the classification of prisoners and create a new protective custody system which would include 23-hour-per-day lockdown (identical to that mandated for disciplinary reasons) or moving vulnerable inmates to other facilities. Whereas formerly all that was required was a declaration of homosexuality or the appearance of being transgender, inmates wanting protective custody would now be required to request it in a special hearing.

Abuses and injustices

Abuses at Rikers continue to be pervasive despite repeated indictments and convictions of corrections officials, and court orders. In February 2008, jail guard Lloyd Nicholson was indicted after he allegedly used a select group of teenage inmates as enforcers under a regimen he called "the program" as well as allegedly beating inmates himself. Also he was accused of using his baton as a sodomizing instrument, against one inmate Kunal "Kuny" Rayakar.

On October 4, 2007, the New York City Department of Corrections conceded that "tens of thousands of nonviolent inmates taken to Rikers Island on misdemeanor charges had been wrongly strip-searched in violation of a 2002 court settlement, and were entitled to payment for damages. As many as 150,000 such inmates have been searched at Rikers Island since 2002, lawyers for the inmates said... The policy was kept in place despite a United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruling in 2001 that strip-searches of misdemeanor suspects were illegal, unless officials suspected that they were carrying contraband..."

[Lead lawyer Richard D.] Emery charged in his papers that department officials "repeatedly resorted to lying to cover up deliberate indifference to the continued practice of humiliating detainees by forcing them to strip naked in groups."

In an alleged July 2008 rape case reported by the Village Voice on August 5, 2008, the alleged victim claimed "that someone entered her cell in the 1,000-bed Rose M. Singer Center while she was asleep, sometime before 6 a.m. on July 3. She says the intruder (or intruders) bound and gagged her with bedsheets and then used a dildo-like object to sexually assault her. Other inmates may have acted as lookouts during the alleged assault. The woman, who was being held on grand-larceny charges for the past three months, was discovered at about 6 a.m. by a guard and a captain who were touring the building. There's no doubt that she had been trussed up: The guard saw her lying on her back on the floor of her cell with bedsheets wrapped around her neck, mouth, and legs. She had also been blindfolded. The incident was reported to central command at 7:30 a.m., and the woman was transported to the Elmhurst Hospital Center. Because she didn't share a cell with anyone, a major question is how the alleged assault happened in the first place. Officials won't talk about the investigation, and there's no word on whether any arrests have been made."

The same Village Voice article also lists a roll call of 2008 scandals at Rikers, including the case of guards who allegedly passed accused cop killer Lee Woods pot, cigarettes, and alcohol; the February indictment of corrections officer Lloyd Nicholson who used inmates as "enforcers", and the April 27 suicide of 18-year-old Steven Morales in the high-security close-custody unit.

On February 3, 2009, the New York Times reported that "the pattern of cases suggests that city correction officials have been aware of a problem in which Rikers guards have acquiesced or encouraged violence among inmates." The Times added that "There have been at least seven lawsuits filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan accusing guards of complicity or acquiescence in inmate violence at Rikers, a complex of 10 detention facilities which, along with several other jails around the city, hold about 13,000 prisoners, most of whom are pretrial detainees. None of the seven suits have gone to trial. In the three that were settled, the city admitted no liability or wrongdoing."


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