Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex that houses about 9,800 inmates, is one of the largest in the United States. It is also one of the most troubled.
After several inmate deaths, decades of lawsuits alleging inmate abuse and a two-and-a-half-year investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, the city in June agreed to let a federal monitor oversee reforms at the jail, which sits on a 413-acre bean-shaped island in the East River between the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx.
While the report said the causes of the widespread abuses at Rikers were “systemic,” the people who received the alleged mistreatment, were, of course, individuals.
Photographer Elizabeth Shafiroff sought out seven of these former inmates to hear their stories, which follow. Reuters was not able to independently verify their statements.
In response to questions from Reuters, a spokesman for Rikers Island Department of Correction (DOC) said: “Since Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte’s appointment last year, he has significantly reformed the care and custody of adolescent inmates, resulting in substantial decline in violence in the adolescent facility.”
The spokesman added that safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte’s “top priority” and that “DOC has a zero-tolerance policy with regards to abuse.”
Damien Norman (above), 20, said he was 17 while awaiting trial on Rikers Island in 2012 for robbery and said his wrist was broken in an incident involving a corrections officer.
Norman said that during one prison lockdown, a guard “bended my wrist all the way up to the highest and it popped.” Norman said he was sent to solitary confinement immediately after.