Rikers Island corrections officers not prosecuted for brutalization of inmates
Unchecked assaults of inmates by corrections officers reveal corruption and amorality in justice system
In December 2012, corrections officers at Rikers Island brutalized two inmates until blood stained the walls of an isolated exam room. Two officers had strapped the inmates down and beat them as they screamed.
As the inmates and medical staffers present begged the officers to stop, Captain Rod Marcel, who was overseeing the beating alongside fellow captain Budnarine Behari, responded only by yelling “Stop resisting,” to the bleeding, handcuffed prisoners.
This month, the Bronx district attorney declined to prosecute the officers involved. The decision is incredibly disturbing – and completely expected.
In the last year, of the 129 cases in which inmates were severely injured at the hands of guards, not a single officer was prosecuted.
The Correction Department reports use of physical force by guards has increased by 90 percent and often involves the most vulnerable inmates, including teenagers and the mentally ill.
Violence in Rikers runs virtually unchecked, as do the efforts of the prison’s staff to falsify reports and disguise its violent, illegal behavior.
Taking advantage of the unreliability of inmates’ testimony and relying on intimidation to ensure the silence of other guards and officials, corrections officers are free to terrorize inmates as they please.
Attempts to weed out corrupt and violent guards have floundered in the face of resistance and threats. Norman Seabrook, head of the correction officers’ union, appears satisfied with a culture of violence that negates the possibility of rehabilitation and ensures that the prison maintains its deplorable recidivism rate – 69 percent of prisoners are rearrested within a year of their release.
Although it’s not realistic to expect a prison to be free of violence – many inmates are guilty of violent crimes and when officers are endangered they certainly have the right to protect themselves with force – it’s equally ridiculous to attempt to deny that inmates, no matter their past, deserve basic human rights. And yet, by allowing brutality and assaults that fall just short of torture, the U.S. prison system is reducing its inmates to subhuman status.
It’s beyond naïve to believe that inmates can return to society as law-abiding citizens when they’ve spent their time behind bars as witnesses to sheer brutality and as victims of violence and malice, at the hands of those who are supposed to protect them.
But protection isn’t a priority for officers like Marcel, who has been involved in close to 100 serious incidents in the last 15 years, and Behari, who is still on the job even as he awaits the verdict of another assault case from April 2012, in which an inmate suffered a broken nose and fractured vertebrae.
Watching guards break the law and get away with it – and maintain their jobs – teaches nothing but disdain for this country’s legal system. The inmates who are students in this abhorrent lesson are the very people who need to learn to respect the law.
Despite his transgressions, Behari has retained not just his employment but also his authority as a captain.
So, to the prosecutors who don’t seem to think that an inmate’s life is worth anything: Brush up on your ethics. You have power and influence, and now it’s time to find some moral fiber.
To the employees of Rikers, who stay silent even after watching unprovoked assaults play out before their eyes: find the remaining shreds of your humanity and protest. Deny the bystander effect, deny the guards who think they can get away with (everything but) murder and prove to the inmates at Rikers that their welfare actually matters.
And to the correction officers’ union that is inexplicably unwilling to alter the status quo: Stop resisting.