||This article uses bare URLs for citations, which may be threatened by link rot. (June 2013)|
|Location||New York City, Bronx USA|
|Nearest city||New York City|
|Area||413.17 acres (1.672 km2)|
|Governing body||New York City Department of Correction|
Rikers Island is New York City's main jail complex, as well as the name of the 413.17-acre (1.672 km2) island on which it sits, in the East River between Queens and the mainland Bronx, adjacent to the runways of LaGuardia Airport. The island itself is part of the borough of the Bronx, though it is included as part of Queens Community Board 1 and has a Queens ZIP code of 11370. The jail complex, operated by the New York City Department of Correction, has a budget of $860 million a year, a staff of 9,000 officers and 1,500 civilians to control an inmate population of 12,300. The official permanent population of the island, as reported by the United States Census Bureau, was 11,355 as of 2009. The NYC IBO (Independent Budget Office) determined that the city is spending $167,000 per inmate annually. 
The island is thought to be named after Abraham Rycken, a Dutch settler who moved to Long Island in 1638 and whose descendants owned Rikers Island until 1884, when it was sold to the city for $180,000. It has been used as a jail ever since.
The complex and its facilities
The Rikers Island complex, which consists of ten jails, holds local offenders who are awaiting trial and cannot afford, obtain, or were not given bail from a judge, those serving sentences of one year or less and those temporarily placed there pending transfer to another facility. Rikers Island is therefore a jail and not a prison, which typically holds offenders serving longer-term sentences.
Facilities located on the island include Otis Bantum Correctional Center (OBCC), Robert N. Davoren Complex (RNDC, formerly ARDC), Anna M. Kross Center (AMKC), George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC), North Infirmary Command (NIC), Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC), Eric M. Taylor Center (EMTC, formerly CIFM), James A. Thomas Center (JATC), George R. Vierno Center (GRVC) and West Facility (WF). The Bantum, Kross, Motchan, and Vierno house detained male adults. Taylor houses sentenced male adolescents and adults. Davoren primarily houses male inmates who are of ages 16 through 18. Singer houses detained and sentenced female adolescents and adults. North Infirmary primarily houses inmates who require medical attention from an infirmary. West Facility houses inmates who have diseases that are contagious.
The only access to the island is from Queens, over the unmarked 4,200-foot (1.28 km) three-lane Francis Buono Bridge, dedicated on November 22, 1966, by Mayor John Lindsay. Before the bridge was constructed, the only access to the island was by ferry. Transportation is also provided by the Q100 limited stop bus service, which runs around-the-clock as of winter 2013, replacing the Q101R. There are also privately operated shuttles that connect the parking lot at the south end to the island. Bus service within the island for visitors visiting inmates is provided by the New York City Department of Correction.
The North Infirmary Command, which used to be called the Rikers Island Infirmary, is used to house inmates requiring extreme protective custody, inmates with special health needs, mentally ill inmates, and inmates undergoing drug detoxification, as well as some regular inmates. The rest of the facilities, all built in the last 67 years, make up this city of jails. There is also the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center, a floating barge (described below). New York City's jail system has become something of a small town. There are schools, medical clinics, ball fields, chapels, gyms, drug rehab programs, grocery stores, barbershops, a bakery, a laundromat, a power plant, a track, a tailor shop, a print shop, a bus depot and even a car wash. Rikers Island has been referred to as the world's largest penal colony. For comparison, Europe's largest correctional facility, Fleury-Mérogis Prison sits on 180 acres (0.73 km2) and houses 3,800 prisoners.
The island was used as a military training ground during the Civil War. The first regiment to use the Island was the Ninth New York Infantry, also known as Hawkins' Zouaves, which arrived there on May 15, 1861. Hawkins' Zouaves was followed by the 36th New York State Volunteers on June 23, which was followed by the Anderson Zouaves on July 15, 1861. The Anderson Zouaves were commanded by John Lafayette Riker who was related to the owners of the island. The camp of the Anderson Zouaves was named Camp Astor in compliment to millionaire John Jacob Astor Jr. who provided funding for the army, and who appears to have made a significant contribution to the raising of the Anderson Zouaves in particular, with the Astor ladies being credited with the manufacture of the zouave uniforms worn by the recruits of this regiment. Rikers Island was subsequently used by numerous other Civil War regiments, but the name "Camp Astor" was specific to the Anderson Zouaves and did not become a general name for the military encampment on the island.
In 1883 New York City's Commission of Charities and Corrections expressed an interest in purchasing the island for use as a work-house. Any such purchase would have to be approved by the state. In January 1884 state senator Frederick S. Gibbs introduced a bill in the state senate authorizing the commission to purchase the island. In May 1884 Governor Cleveland signed a bill authorizing the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections to purchase the island for a sum no greater than $180,000. At the time, the island was within the boundaries of Long Island City, which was located in Queens County and this potential transfer set off squabbling between politicians of Long Island City, Queens County, and New York City. On July 31, 1884, a compromise was agreed to by all three entities, New York City agreed to pay a total of $3,000, to be disbursed as $2,500 to Long Island City and $500 to Queens County. On August 4, 1884, the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections, Jacob Hess, signed a contract purchasing the island from John T. Wilson, a descendant of the Ryker family, for $180,000, $179,000 to Wilson and $1,000 for a title search. The facility was commonly referred to by New Yorkers as simply "The Island".
In 1932, the city opened a jail for men on the island to replace its dilapidated jail on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island). Landfill was added to the island in 1954. It enlarged the original 90-acre (360,000 m2) island to 415 acres (1.68 km2), enabling the jail facilities to expand. The original penitentiary building, completed in 1935, was called HDM or the House of Detention for Men; it became a maximum security facility called the James A. Thomas Center and closed due to structural issues in 2000.
In 1957, Northeast Airlines Flight 823 crashed onto Rikers Island shortly after take-off from LaGuardia Airport, killing 20 and injuring 78 out of a total of 95 passengers and 6 crew. Shortly after the crash, department personnel and inmates alike ran to the crash in order to help survivors. As a result of their actions, of the 57 inmates who assisted with the rescue effort, 30 were released and 16 received a reduction of six months by the N.Y.C. Parole Board. Governor Averell Harriman also granted commutation of sentence to 11 men serving definite sentences: two received a six months reduction; one workhouse and eight penitentiary definites became eligible for immediate release.
During Mayor David Dinkins' term as mayor of New York, the jail filled to overflowing, and an 800-bed barge was installed on the East River to accommodate the extra inmates. The barge is called the Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center (VCBC), and is also known simply as "The Boat". VCBC is located at 1 Halleck St, Bronx, NY 10474, at the end of Hunts Point, near the recently relocated Fulton Fish Market. The keel for the Vernon C. Bain was laid in 1989 at the Avondale Shipyard in New Orleans. Upon completion, VCBC was towed up from Louisiana to its current mooring, and attached to two Crandall Arms.[clarification needed] It opened for use as a facility in 1992. Originally it had been leased to the NYC Department of Juvenile Justice, while Spofford Juvenile Detention Center was under reconstruction. VCBC was formerly known as Maritime Facility #3 (MTF3); facilities 1 and 2 were reconstructed British military transport barges, or BIBBYs (British Industries Boat Building Yard), used during the Falklands War, both of which could house 800 soldiers, but only 200 inmates after their conversion. MTFs 1 and 2 were anchored on either side of Manhattan at East River pier 17, near 20th street, in the Hudson River. In addition, there were two smaller 1930s-era Staten Island Ferry boats, both converted to house 162 inmates each. The ferry boats were sold for salvage about 2003, and the owner of the shipyard that built VCBC, Avondale Shipyard, bought the two BIBBYs. VCBC is the only vessel of its type in the world. Prior to modification for use by New York City, it cost $161 million to construct. The initial plan for acquiring the vessel, because of the way New York City makes capital purchases, had to begin at least five years before the keel was laid, during the tenure of Ed Koch.
A drawing by artist Salvador Dalí, done as an apology because he was unable to attend a talk about art for the prisoners at Rikers Island, hung in the inmate dining room in J.A.T.C. (HDM) from 1965 to 1981, when it was moved to the prison lobby in E.M.T.C. (C76) for safekeeping. The drawing was stolen in March 2003 and replaced with a fake; three Correction Officers and an Assistant Deputy Warden were arrested and charged, and though three later pled guilty and one was acquitted, the drawing has not been recovered.
The segregated unit at Rikers for LGBT prisoners, known as "gay housing," was closed in December 2005 citing a need to improve security. The unit had opened in the 1970s due to concerns about abuse of LGBT prisoners in pretrial detention. The New York City Department of Corrections' widely criticized plan was to restructure the classification of prisoners and create a new protective custody system which would include 23-hour-per-day lockdown (identical to that mandated for disciplinary reasons) for moving vulnerable inmates to other facilities. Whereas formerly all that was required was a declaration of homosexuality or the appearance of being transgender, inmates wanting protective custody would now be required to request it in a special hearing.
In February 2008, Correction Officer Lloyd Nicholson was indicted after he allegedly used a select group of teenage inmates as enforcers under a regime called "the program", as well as allegedly beating inmates himself. However, "the program" has been known to exist for well over a decade and is unique to the adolescents. The inmates use it as a test for other inmates and a system of control amongst themselves.
On June 1, 2007, Captain Sherman Graham and Assistant Deputy Warden Gail Lewis were arrested by the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) for covering up an assault on an inmate. The arrest came after both were indicted by a Bronx Grand Jury. It is alleged that on October 4, 2006, Graham assaulted an inmate after he refused to comply with strip searching procedures at the Robert N. Davoren Center (RNDC, C-74). The assault occurred in front of 15 Correction Academy Recruits in training. After the assault, Graham ordered the Recruits to write on their Use of Force Witness Reports that Graham assaulted the inmate in self-defense after the inmate punched Graham. Lewis, who was Graham’s supervisor, did not intervene to stop anything. Lewis also submitted a false Use of Force Witness Report. Charges against Graham include 16 counts of Falsifying Business Records, 16 counts of offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree 16 counts of Official Misconduct, a class A misdemeanor and one count of Attempted Assault in the Third Degree. Lewis was charged with Falsifying Business Records, Offering a False Instrument for Filing and Official Misconduct. The investigation started when the DOI received a tip following an anti-corruption presentation at the Academy in October 2006 on the day before graduation.
Graham and Lewis were found guilty on all charges by a Bronx jury on May 14, 2012. It took the jury approximately three hours to deliberate a guilty verdict. Lewis was able to retire in December 2009 with her pension. Graham was terminated from the Corrections Department following the guilty verdict. Each faced up to four years in prison, however, Graham and Lewis were both sentenced to 500 hours of community service and ordered to pay $1,000.00 in fines on August 7, 2012, when they were sentenced.
On October 4, 2007, the New York City Department of Corrections conceded that "tens of thousands of nonviolent inmates taken to Rikers Island on misdemeanor charges had been wrongly strip-searched in violation of a 2002 court settlement, and were entitled to payment for damages. As many as 150,000 such inmates have been searched at Rikers Island since 2002, lawyers for the inmates said... The policy was kept in place despite a United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruling in 2001 that strip-searches of misdemeanor suspects were illegal, unless officials suspected that they were carrying contraband..."
[Lead lawyer Richard D.] Emery charged in his papers that department officials "repeatedly resorted to lying to cover up deliberate indifference to the continued practice of humiliating detainees by forcing them to strip naked in groups."
In an alleged July 2008 rape case reported by The Village Voice on August 5, 2008, the alleged victim claimed "that someone entered her cell in the 1,000-bed Rose M. Singer Center while she was asleep, sometime before 6 a.m. on July 3. She says the intruder (or intruders) bound and gagged her with bedsheets and then used a dildo-like object to sexually assault her. Other inmates may have acted as lookouts during the alleged assault. The woman, who was being held on grand-larceny charges for the past three months, was discovered at about 6 a.m. by an Officer and a Captain who were touring the building. The Officer saw her lying on her back on the floor of her cell with bedsheets wrapped around her neck, mouth, and legs. She had also been blindfolded. The incident was reported to central command at 7:30 a.m., and the woman was transported to the Elmhurst Hospital Center. Because she didn't share a cell with anyone, a major question is how the alleged assault happened in the first place. Officials won't talk about the investigation, and there's no word on whether any arrests have been made."
The same Village Voice article also lists a roll call of 2008 scandals at Rikers, including the case of Officers who allegedly passed accused cop killer Lee Woods marijuana, cigarettes, and alcohol; the February indictment of corrections officer Lloyd Nicholson who used inmates as "enforcers", and the April 27 suicide of 18-year-old Steven Morales (who had killed his infant daughter for crying too much) in the high-security closed-custody unit.
On February 3, 2009, The New York Times reported that "the pattern of cases suggests that city correction officials have been aware of a problem in which Rikers Officers have acquiesced or encouraged violence among inmates." The Times added that "There have been at least seven lawsuits filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan accusing Officers of complicity or acquiescence in inmate violence at Rikers, a complex of 10 detention facilities which, along with several other jails around the city, hold about 13,000 prisoners, most of whom are pretrial detainees. None of the seven suits have gone to trial. In the three that were settled, the city admitted no liability or wrongdoing."
- Dr. Emily Senay, M.D., M.P.H., CBS News. Accessed July 27, 2007. "In addition to making house calls for homebound patients in Manhattan through Betances Health Unit, Dr. Senay has worked in a variety of clinical settings including Rikers Island, New York City's largest jail, and the Floating Hospital, a non-profit health clinic for underserved families."
- Tax Block & Tax Lot Base Map Files on CD-ROM, New York City Department of City Planning. Accessed July 26, 2007. "Similar to the Marble Hill situation is that of Rikers Island. Rikers Island is part of the Borough of The Bronx. However, it is administratively included in Queens Community District 1."
- U.S. Census Bureau 2005-2009 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates 
- Harshbarger, Rebecca (2013-08-23). "Taxpayer cost of housing NYC prisoners last year: $167,000 per inmate | New York Post". Nypost.com. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- Daily Star May 1880 Greater Astoria Historical Society. Accessed July 27, 2007. "His daughter Grietie married Abraham Rycken; it is after this prominent Queens family that Rikers Island is named."
- Barth, Kodi. An Overview of Rikers Island: A City of Jails, NYC24.com. " Named after Abraham Rycken, a Dutch settler who moved to Long Island in 1638 and whose descendants owned Rikers Island till 1884."
- "Rikers Island Facilities." City of New York Department of Correction. Retrieved on December 30, 2009.
- Barth, Kodi. "A City of Jails". Accessed December 31, 2008
- Devlin, John C. (November 23, 1966). "'Bridge of Hope' to Rikers Island Is Dedicated Here". The New York Times. p. 41. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- "Inside Rikers: Stories from the World's Largest Penal Colony (9780312261795): Jennifer Wynn: Books". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- "Captive Audience." NYC24. Retrieved on April 3, 2009.
- Shaw, Danny (March 18, 2008). "Inside Europe's largest prison". BBC News. Retrieved July 10, 2010.
- "Pilot Fees at New-York" New York Times, January 30, 1884
- "City and Suburban News: New-York" New York Times, May 25, 1884
- "The Purchase of Riker's Island" New York Times, July 3, 1884
- "City and Suburban News: Long Island" New York Times, August 1, 1884
- "City and Suburban News: New-York" New York Times, August 5, 1884
- ""Rikers Island Air Crash"". Correctionhistory.org. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- ""The Travels of Tug 44"". Tug44.org. Retrieved 2013-10-16.
- Von Zielbauer, Paul (October 4, 2003). "Art Too Tempting at Rikers; Plot to Steal a Dalí Was Far From a Masterpiece". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-05.
- "Arrested justice: When LGBT People Land in Jail Part Four: The Myth of 'Protective Custody'". Patrick Letellier, Gay.com. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
- "Closure of Gay Housing at Rikers Draws Complaints". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. December 30, 2005. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
- Von Zielbauer, Paul (December 30, 2005). "City Prepares to Close Rikers Housing for Gays". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-28.
- Rayman, Graham (April 8, 2008). "Rikers Island Fight Club". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- "2007027 Friday, June 1, 2007". Bronxda.nyc.gov. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- "Rikers Island Supervisors Found Guilty of Covering Up Prisoner Assault - Hunts Point - DNAinfo.com New York". Dnainfo.com. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- Rayman, Graham (2012-05-14). "Gail Lewis, Sherman Graham, Jail Supervisors Convicted For Covering Up a Fight - New York - News - Runnin' Scared". Blogs.villagevoice.com. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- Smith, Greg B. (May 14, 2012). "Class in how not to cover up goof at jail". Daily News (New York).
- "015-2012 Monday, May 14, 2012". Bronxda.nyc.gov. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- Feuer, Alan (October 5, 2007). "City to Pay Damages for Strip Searches". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- Rayman, Graham (August 5, 2008). "Woman-on-Woman Rape Claim at Rikers". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2010-04-23.
- Weiser, Benjamin (February 3, 2009). "Lawsuits Suggest Pattern of Rikers Guards Looking Other Way". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-04.
- Description of the 10 jails on Rikers.
- The Jail Inferno, by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, Summer 2009
- Rikers Island: Blocks 9000 and 9001, Block Group 9, Census Tract 1, Bronx County, New York United States Census Bureau
- Department of Correction Facilities on Rikers Island
- Map of Rikers Island.
- "Guards charged in Dali theft" – (BBC)
- Firsthand Accounts of Ex-Inmates of Rikers Island
- "History of New York City Department of Corrections"
- "Rikers Island guards beat inmates for years" – (CNN, 1998)
- "From Ramallah to Rikers Island" – A New Journal Series by Nigel Parry from the World's Largest Penal Colony, 2008