Prison Guards Charged With Letting Inmates Run Rikers

Unless they get caught having sex with inmates or smuggling drugs into a prison, it's rare for corrections officers (formerly known as prison guards) to be charged with criminal behavior in their administration of prison affairs. It's encouraging that charges have been filed twice in less than a year against corrections officers at the youth facility in the Rikers Island jail.

According to the new indictment, guards used violent inmates to ride herd over others, sanctioned assaults on inmates and decided when, where and how they would take place. Prosecutors accused the guards of setting up a system of warning signals to protect gang members from being discovered when they administered beatings. They said the guards directed their “teams” to avoid hitting inmates in the face so that any injuries would not be readily apparent.

The indictment charges three guards who were allegedly involved in the death of an 18 year old who was beaten to death in his cell. [more ...]

The linked editorial argues that Rikers guards need better training and supervision. It shouldn't be necessary to "train" a guard that it's wrong to assist inmates who want to beat or torture or steal from another inmate. The problem requires more than training or supervision; the entire culture of our worst prisons needs to be changed.

Allowing inmates to control the prison is a common theme in corrections. Guards often depend on inmates to keep "order" in the prison, and they look the other way when inmates use violence to maintain their power structure. The empowered inmates provide helpful information to the guards, who in turn look pretend not to notice when those inmates feel a need to assert their authority against other inmates.

It's less common for guards to play the more active role alleged at Rikers Island. Directing specific acts of violence makes the guards just as complicit as the violent inmates. But even when corrections officers have only a passive "understanding" with inmates that violence is an acceptable means of enforcing a power structure, they've crossed the line. Rikers may be an extreme example of the fuzzy distinction between inmates and their guards, but it illustrates the pressing need for prison reform nationwide.

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    i note that the (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Fri Jan 30, 2009 at 01:00:55 AM EST
    indictment only came about after someone was beaten to death, not before. i wouldn't bet the rent money that this will have much of a long-term affect at rikers, or any other prison.

    these guys just happened to be stupid.

    Stupid and Human.... (none / 0) (#2)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 30, 2009 at 09:15:22 AM EST
    this behavior is almost inevitable when you have this much authority over other human beings.  The guards need guards, and the guards of the guards need guards.

    A case in point as to why we should cage as few human beings as humanly possible.