Rikers Cracks Down On Gang Violence By Locking Down Inmates For 34 Hours

By May Wilkerson 03/06/15

Gang stabbings and slashings are up three-fold this year.

Rikers Island
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In an effort to crackdown on gang violence, more than half of the inmates at New York City’s Rikers Island were locked in their cells for 34 hours straight earlier this week, the New York Times reports. It was the first time in years that the institution adopted such extreme measures, confining about 6,800 inmates to their cells through Wednesday afternoon, while correction officers searched for weapons and drugs.

The operation was a response to an outbreak of gang-related violence that officials suspect is linked to a feud between two factions of the Bloods, the “Blood L-Gang” and the “Blood Brim.” There have been nearly 23 inmate fights and a dozen stabbings, or slashings, at Rikers in the last two weeks, say officials.

“In the past two weeks, we have specific information about gangs that are targeting other gangs,” said the Department of Corrections in a statement. “They are designating hits across different facilities and getting a hold of weapons to perform the hits.”

Much of the violence revolves around contraband items, like drugs and weapons, which are smuggled in and then bartered for cash. Though some of these items are smuggled in during visits from inmates’ friends or family, investigators say Rikers' employees are behind a large share of contraband.

During this week’s operation, about 2,000 inmates who were identified as “high risk” were strip-searched and required to pass through a metal detector. All of their cells, personal belongings and mattresses were searched for contraband. Correction officials reportedly confiscated a dozen homemade weapons, including metal rods and shoe shanks and sharpened plexiglass.

In the past year, violence among inmates, attacks on staff and staff brutality towards inmates has continued to rise, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio allocating tens of millions of dollars towards cleaning up and “remaking” the jails.

In 2014, there were 93 slashings and stabbings reported at Rikers, making it the most violent year in a decade. In 2015 so far, there have been 24 slashings and stabbings, a three-fold increase from the same period last year.

A number of prison reforms, such as reducing the length of solitary confinement, and opening a separate unit for disruptive inmates have been put on hold while corrections officers deal with the recent outbreak of violence.

“I’m hoping and praying that this initiative reduces violence and creates a safer environment,” said Sidney Schwartzbaum, president of the union for assistant deputy wardens. “However, we must have a Plan B if that doesn’t work.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.