The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Human Rights Crimes at Rikers Island

Sep 27, 2021

Two people died in three days at New York City’s Rikers Island jail last week. Eleven inmates have died so far this year. (Twelve, if we count one person who was granted ‘compassionate leave’ to die at home.)

This figure is a stark result of the deplorable, inhumane conditions that exist at Rikers Island. Six died of illnesses contracted or exacerbated while in the jail. Five died from apparent suicides—driven to it, in all probability, by those conditions.

Conditions at Rikers have always been bad. Built in the 1930s, it was already notoriously overcrowded by the 1950s. Conditions continued to deteriorate decade by decade, up to the present day.

COVID made things even worse. Overcrowding skyrocketed as court cases were halted and inmates were left in limbo. At the same time, staffing at the jail plummeted as guards and other employees were out sick. “Triple shifts"—24 hours straight—became common; so, more guards just refused to come to work. Inmates were left to fend for themselves in overcrowded cells, often with no water, no food, and no toilets. They are unable to contact their families or lawyers for weeks at a time.

State lawmakers who toured the facility reported finding overflowing toilets, and floors covered with feces, urine, cockroaches and rotting food. There was no air conditioning in the sweltering summer. They reported prisoners screaming at them, begging them to help. One prisoner attempted suicide right in front of them.

The vast majority of the prisoners at Rikers have not even been convicted of anything. They were arrested for minor and nonviolent crimes, and are awaiting their trials in jail because they do not have the money to post bail. The latest person to die at Rikers, Isaabdul Karim, had been brought to the jail 31 days earlier for a minor parole violation. It became a death sentence, after weeks without medical care.

Commissions and monitors have called for better conditions and even closing the jail. But nothing gets changed, and conditions continue to worsen. Because this is what incarceration is in this capitalist society: throw away the people brutalized by this society; brutalize and dehumanize them even more.