Study reveals guard violence towards inmates disproportionately impacts prisoners with mental illness

An internal study unearthed by The New York Times details the horrifying culture of guard violence towards inmates at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail. According to The Times, the study was conducted by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and “found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered ‘serious injuries’ – ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat – in altercations with correction department staff members…Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis.” Of the 11,000 people held at Rikers, forty-percent have been diagnosed with a mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, depression, or schizophrenia.

One individual included in the study is Andre Lane, who claims he was attacked by guards after he allegedly splashed them with either water or urine. According to Lane and witnesses, he was handcuffed and taken into an area of the prison clinic where there were no cameras, and severely beaten by the guards. Lane’s account of the attack is chilling: “They put me in cuffs, they laid me on a desk and they started punching me in my face…They said if I had lost a little more blood, I would have died, I probably would have went into cardiac arrest.”

According to the New York Times investigation, none of the guards involved in the attacks detailed in the study have been prosecuted or brought up on administrative charges.

If you’d like to read more about officer violence towards prisoners with mental illness at Rikers Island, The New York Times article can be found here. Andre Lane’s testimonial can be viewed below.

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New York Times: A Beating at Rikers

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.