Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Across the 'Bridge of Pain'

How the Rikers Island Jail became America’s most infamous penitentiary.

In the 18 months since he became mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio has made several trips across a 4,200-foot causeway in the city’s East River. To the Queens residents on its southern border, this outer borough roadway is known as the Francis R. Buono Memorial Bridge—or, more informally, as “the Rikers Island Bridge.” The residents on the other side know it by a different name. To the roughly 10,000 men, women, and adolescents in the Rikers Island Jail, the mayor has been driving across the “Bridge of Pain.”
De Blasio has returned from these visits with ambitious plans for the nation’s second-largest jail complex. In April, he promised to end court delays that keep Rikers inmates locked away for years while awaiting trial. On June 22, his administration settled a long-standing class-action lawsuit filed by United States Attorney Preet Bharara on behalf of inmates who were beaten by Rikers guards. As part of the settlement, de Blasio agreed to federal oversight of the jail and announced sweeping new restrictions on the use of force by its corrections officers.

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