Rikers Island: The World's Largest Penal Colony

An aerial view of the penal facilities at the Rikers Island.
An aerial view of the penal facilities at the Rikers Island.

Rikers Island is a jail complex in New York named after the island on which it is located. The island itself is on the East River and covers an area of about 413 acres. The island was named after Abraham Ryckens who acquired it in 1664. The institution is managed by the NYC Department of Correction and has a budget allocation of over $800 million annually. A staff of about 10,000 officers and 1,500 civilians are in-charge of 100,000 admissions annually and a daily inmate population of about 10,000. The jail complex is also famous for abuse and neglect of prisoners attracting the attention of the media and the judiciary, resulting in several lawsuits against the NYC government. It is also a dangerous place to work in for both the civilian and officers due to the numerous attacks by the inmates.

The Jail Complex And Facility

Riker Island is not a prison according to the US terminology. The complex consist of 10 jails which hold offenders who are awaiting trials, inmates serving sentences of one year or less, and those who are awaiting transfer to another facility. The island is home to ten of the 15 New York’s correction facilities. The complex can accommodate up to 15,000 inmates. The complex has facilities for young male adults between the age of 16 and 18 years, female adolescents, female and male adults, and an infirmary for prisoners requiring medical attention. Inmates with contagious diseases are housed in the West Facility. Inmates who need extreme protective custody or have special health needs are housed at the North Infirmary Command. The island can only be accessed from Queens via the Francis Buono Bridge.

History Of The Jail

The desire to establish a prison on the island was first expressed by New York City in 1925. The jail was built in 1932 to replace the old jail which was on the Welfare Island. Rikers Island was subsequently enlarged from 90 acres to 415 by 1945 using the landfill. The expansion of the island enabled the prison also to expand. The House of Detention for Men was completed in 1935. Several correctional centers were built on the island to meet the increasing demand. Today, the complex has ten jails and several facilities able to accommodate 15,000 inmates and has a daily average of 10,000 inmates while daytime population including inmates and staff is 20,000.

Incidences And Neglect Of Prisoners

Rikers Island has become notorious for a culture of neglect and abuse and has attracted several lawsuits and investigations. The federal court ruled against strip searches on people arrested on misdemeanor charges. However, the practice continued despite the court ruling in 1989 costing the NYC taxpayers over $80 million in settlement to the victims of illegal searches. Cases of sexual assault have also been reported at the facility. Officer brutalities on the inmates have also been reported with some of the officers facing charges for assaulting inmates. In 2012, it was reported that about 14% of the female adolescents detained at the island were held in solitary confinement for an average of 43 days leading to mental health problems


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