Death Trap: Human Rights Abuses & Drug War Casualties at Riker’s Island



Photograph Credit: Legal Aid Society, Isaabdul Karim

Isaabdul Karim was the eleventh man or woman to die this year when incarcerated at Riker’s Island, New York City’s principal jail. His avoidable dying drew focus to the horrific and deepening crisis at the notorious facility, which has been referred to as a “moral stain” on the Large Apple. Regardless of a meant formal plan of drawing down the amount of persons held at Riker’s Island in preparing for its projected closure, it turns out that Karim was only getting held for parole violations. And, even with New York state’s new legalization law, just one of these parole violations involved his use of cannabis.

Considering that the hashish legalization bill in New York passed previously this yr, there has been an unparalleled, a bit surreal, permissive ambiance for the herb in the Empire Town. Beneath the new regulation, cannabis can be smoked in general public anyplace tobacco cigarette smoking is permitted. And in Washington Square and other well-known youth accumulating details, cottage-market outfits have established up tables and are openly providing THC-rich extracts, edibles, and dried flower. None of them are accredited, due to the fact no licensing construction is in put still — but the authorities are turning a blind eye, seemingly by formal policy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has (for two several years now) requested law enforcement not make arrests for minor hashish offenses, and the city’s district lawyers are no more time prosecuting this sort of situations. In the meantime, a human legal rights disaster is festering at the city’s most significant jail. Of some 6,000 men and women presently held at Rikers Island, the mind-boggling bulk have under no circumstances been convicted of the criminal offense they are accused of. They are in lawful limbo awaiting demo, enmeshed in a huge backlog of scenarios in the city’s felony justice program – a logjam partly because of to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At minimum 100 folks are remaining held at the facility on technical parole violations — that is, failure to stay up to disorders of release adhering to a former conviction. Isaabdul Karim was 1 of these.

When parole violations are a dying sentence

As the Daily Information reported, Karim, 42, died at an infirmary in the island complicated soon after complaining to personnel of feeling ill on Sept. 19. The metropolis Department of Correction (DoC) reported it appears he died of normal will cause, but the Professional medical Examiner’s Business office has yet to release ultimate conclusions on bring about of dying, and is not obliged to do so publicly.

In a bitter irony, Karim could have been suitable for quick launch less than a law signed by New York’s Gov. Kathy Hochul just two times just before his loss of life. Supposed to ease the crisis at Rikers, the Fewer Is More Act phone calls for launch of detainees held on “technical parole violations.”

The Medical Examiner’s Workplace has however to launch ultimate findings on lead to of loss of life and is not obliged to do so publicly.

DoC commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, in asserting Karim’s demise, acknowledged the disaster at Rikers Island and quite a few of the city’s other lock-ups. “There is absolutely nothing all-natural about what is happening in our jail program right now,” Schiraldi claimed. Karim was the 11th inmate to die at Rikers in 2021.

Karim — who experienced experienced ailment and tried suicide all through a previous stint at Rikers in 2016 — landed back again on the island this August after currently being stabbed when peddling items on a Manhattan avenue, resources explained to the Day by day Information. At the medical center, a background verify disclosed an open up warrant for the parole violations, resulting in his arrest.

Karim had been on parole since June 2018, following serving a term of two several years and six months for marketing cocaine to an undercover cop. Data on his situation from the New York Condition Division of Corrections & Local community Supervision (DOCCS) ended up provided to Venture CBD by New York’s Lawful Assist Society, which was representing Karim. The files show that DOCCS issued a warrant for Karim in 2020 for failure to report to his parole officer. The paperwork also cited a prior parole violation — Karim had been arrested for community smoking and possession of cannabis on Broadway in Midtown Manhattan in October 2018.

A hashish reprieve?

Area 6 of the Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act (MRTA), passed by New York’s condition Assembly and signed into regulation by then-governor Andrew Cuomo in March 2021, bars penalizing parolees for possession of cannabis in quantities permitted beneath the Act, unless of course distinctive actions have been imposed that “explicitly prohibit a person’s cannabis use.” No this kind of circumstances experienced been imposed in Karim’s circumstance, and Legal Assist instructed Venture CBD that his parole violation cost for the 2018 arrest most likely would have been dropped at his next listening to — since the Segment 6 provision is frequently remaining applied retroactively.

But Karim did not reside to go to his subsequent scheduled parole listening to.

In a statement on Karim’s passing, Legal Support reported: “Technical violations — including marijuana use and failing to report, the non-criminal rates that led to Mr. Karim’s remand — should really not total to a death sentence.” The assertion charged that DOCCS commissioner Anthony Annucci “has substantially to respond to for.”

Contacted by Job CBD for this tale, DOCCS refused to comment.

The NYC Mayor’s Place of work of Legal Justice, achieved by Project CBD, denied that there are any persons now detained in city jails for possibly offenses or parole violations relevant to cannabis. But it’s difficult to assess the precision of this assertion because of to the absence of any public report delivering a split-down of those held in the method, and for what violations.

Fatalities on Horror Island

The Day by day News delivers harrowing aspects of Karim’s to start with stay at Rikers, or “Horror Island,” as several New Yorkers refer to it. In 2016, awaiting demo on a nonviolent drug demand (the cocaine sale, in accordance to Lawful Assist), he was still left by itself in an consumption cell at the facility for 3 days. He tried to hang himself and swallowed a battery, producing “excruciating ache,” in accordance to healthcare documents received by the Information. His attorney advised the newspaper that he was also put in an isolation cell and not authorized to use the bathroom as punishment for accusing a guard of a racist insult.

The New York Occasions reviews that Karim — who used a wheelchair and experienced hypertension, diabetes, and a background of epilepsy and psychiatric concerns — contracted the coronavirus whilst in Rikers this second time all-around. “It is unclear whether launch would have stored Mr. Karim alive,” the Instances states.

Karim was set in an isolation cell and not permitted to use the rest room as punishment for accusing a guard of a racist insult.

Just after Karim’s death, his associate, Felicia Bullock, advised CBS2 by using textual content that he experienced named her expressing his fears about the disorders at Rikers. “He informed me folks have been dying, and in a panic expressing he had to get out of there,” she wrote.

Karim’s dying was the next at Rikers in September. Gothamist experiences that earlier in the thirty day period, Esias Johnson, 24, died of an obvious drug overdose in the island jail complicated. In August, Segundo Guallpa, 58, and Brandon Rodríguez, 25, were being separately observed dead in their cells at Rikers, obvious suicides. Rodríguez was driving bars since he could not find the money for the $10,000 bond established by a choose following he was arrested in a domestic violence case.

And an additional detainee has died considering the fact that the passing of Karim. On Sept. 22, Stephen Khadu, 34, was pronounced deceased following he was brought to Lincoln Clinic in the Bronx from a “jail barge” moored off Rikers to alleviate overcrowding at the sophisticated. Unnamed “medical distress” was cited by DoC officers, studies the Bronx Periods.

Commenting on Khadu’s dying, New York Town General public Advocate Jumaane Williams said, only to some degree metaphorically: “Twelve people today so much this yr, a few in the past month, have been sentenced to death on Rikers Island. I would be speechless in horror and grief if I were not so indignant … that we have attained this place.”

Dysfunction, neglect & violence

New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio was shamed by Karim’s death into saying some adjustments at Rikers. “Yesterday, new ingestion areas had been opened at Rikers, two clinics and an supplemental housing unit,” de Blasio claimed on Sept. 21.

The facility was also toured that working day by a delegation of officials like point out Attorney Common Letitia James, Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez and Queens DA Melinda Katz. In a statement, James mentioned she was “deeply disturbed” at what she noticed. “For many years, Rikers has been plagued by dysfunction, neglect, and violence, and it’s apparent we have reached a breaking point. These disorders have led to an unparalleled and devastating selection of deaths, and motion is desperately needed. I am analyzing all of my office’s legal options to quickly tackle this dire condition.”

Also on the tour was Alice Fontier, director of the Harlem-primarily based Community Defender Solutions. She gave this harrowing account to The Intercept: “There’s a segregated consumption unit that we walked by the place they have individuals held in showers. It’s about two ft huge by six feet. There is no toilet. They’ve supplied them plastic luggage to use for feces and urine. And they are sitting down in the cells with their individual bodily waste locked into these ailments. This is the most horrific thing I’ve viewed in my lifestyle. I have been coming to this jail because 2008. This is contrary to something that has ever happened here.”

Advocates say shut it down

Politicians have been kicking this can down the road for a while. In response to mounting phone calls for its closure, in 2019 Rikers Island was set to be shut down by 2026.

Stress experienced been making considering the fact that 2011, when Rikers inmates, represented by Lawful Aid, brought a course action match from the city in federal courtroom. This resulted in the 2015 Nunez settlement. De Blasio’s administration dedicated to a host of reforms in the pact, together with appointment of a federal monitor for the facility.

The US Justice Section observed “a sample and follow of carry out at Rikers that violates the constitutional legal rights of adolescent inmates.”

The US Justice Office experienced by now launched a civil rights investigation in response to claims of abuse, and in 2014 unveiled a report on its investigation, finding “a sample and practice of perform at Rikers that violates the constitutional legal rights of adolescent inmates.” The report pointed out a “deep-seated tradition of violence” at the facility, among the inmates and team alike.

In March 2015, de Blasio announced a 14-position program to make a protected surroundings for inmates on Rikers Island. When general public outrage was not appeased, in Oct 2019 de Blasio ultimately agreed to shut the complicated by 2026, and switch it with 4 new lesser jails at different points all-around the city. This deal was permitted by the Town Council. 

But this has also met with community opposition, and in October 2020 the closure date was pushed back again to 2027. 

‘Not in my backyard’ versus ‘decarceration’

Opposition has been specifically robust in Chinatown, in which a single of the new facilities is prepared. Chinatown is positioned around the grim Manhattan Detention Advanced, normally acknowledged as “The Tombs” — wherever arrestees wait to go ahead of a decide, who may perhaps then buy them to Rikers. (The Tombs is also ostensibly slated to be shut.)

Practically precisely a calendar year in advance of the demise of Karim, a state judge issued a ruling that the metropolis bypassed the legally-mandated overview approach for the proposed Decreased Manhattan jail, siding with Chinatown residents who had brought go well with from the prepared construction. The prepared jails in Kew Gardens, Queens, and Mott Haven, in the Bronx, also experience lawsuits from locals.

But opposition is break up amongst “NIMBY” (Not In My Yard) sentiment, and teams like No New Jails, which oppose changing Rikers with new facilities entirely. 

The #Nearrikers marketing campaign, even though halting short of this forthright demand from customers, also speaks of the want to radically shrink the city’s jail population in a “decarceration” plan. Activists on Sept. 15 rallied exterior City Hall before testifying at Town Council hearings on conditions at Rikers. Individuals giving testimony bundled kinfolk of inmates who died at the facility.

The de Blasio administration’s formal Roadmap to Closing Rikers, adopting the rhetoric of “decarceration,” calls for lowering the city’s jail inhabitants to no far more than 3,300 — the most affordable figure in a century. And it emphasizes that a person of the 8 jail models at Rikers has already been closed.

But the total in the city’s jails is however just about double that intention — while drastically lessened from the about 20,000 at the top of racist “broken home windows policing” and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s crackdown on public hashish use in the 1990s. In the course of the pandemic paralysis in the spring of 2020, the city’s jail population dropped underneath 4,000 for the to start with time given that 1946. But this calendar year, the figure began to rise all over again.

A 2019 New York condition bail reform legislation, which bars imposing bail for non-violent offenses and establishes standards for judging flight hazard, has been satisfied with vociferous opposition from law enforcement teams — and what Gothamist phone calls a “quiet insurrection from the bench,” with judges skirting the standards and continuing to impose high bails. Climbing criminal offense in the city in excess of the past year has delivered a propaganda surroundings conducive to subversion of the regulation.

‘A stain on the soul of New York City’

Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic, the disaster at Rikers Island has been compounded by a kind of undeclared wander-out by the facility’s guards. In August alone, Rikers correction officers unsuccessful to exhibit up 2,700 moments, Countrywide Community Radio studies. And while the guards by themselves have an unsavory name for brutality, their absence has led to rising control of cellblocks by gangs. This summertime, models at Rikers went up to 24 several hours with no guards in any respect. Terrorized staff has meant detainees not obtaining timely accessibility to food or medication.

The metropolis has filed go well with in opposition to the guards union, the Correction Officers Benevolent Affiliation, charging it has permitted or even inspired guards at Rikers Island and other metropolis jails to not demonstrate up for do the job. The city is asking a choose to drive the union to intervene and assist cease guards from skipping their shifts — whether or not by getting ill times or simply just likely AWOL.

Town Councilmember Robert Holden of Queens is calling on Gov. Hochul to mobilize and dispatch the Countrywide Guard to Rikers Island.

Right after the death of Karim, the Legal Support Society submitted a letter in federal court inquiring a decide to hold an unexpected emergency convention on Rikers, and to contemplate buying detainees to be unveiled. The federal watch for Rikers, Steve Martin, also wrote the choose, warning that options by de Blasio and his DoC to deal with the crisis “have a substantial void.”

As NY1 reports, Martin wrote: “Stated bluntly, the City’s and Department’s programs are not adequate to handle the imminent danger of harm to persons in custody and Workers flowing from the lousy operation of the jails.” He urged appointment of an “external safety functions manager” to oversee Rikers Island.

On Sept. 27, de Blasio lastly responded to community strain by personally touring Rikers, which he experienced not finished during the a long time of mounting disaster. But inmates charged that jail directors experienced steered the mayor away from the facility’s harshest parts. “This is the darkish facet, and they stored him off the dark side,” stated a person detainee contacted by Gothamist news web page.

Jonathan Lippman, previous chief decide of New York point out and chair of the city’s commission on closing Rikers, explained to Boston’s WBUR that Rikers Island is a “hellhole” and a “stain on the soul of New York City.”

He especially emphasized: “It is the silliest matter in the world that we’re maintaining persons in jail on these nonviolent complex violations. Jail really should be a very last resort. If you’re not violent, why in the globe would you set somebody into a person of these destinations the place you come out significantly a lot more likely to dedicate a criminal offense than when you went in?”

Lippman called on New York Town to “close Rikers as soon as and for all. It is an abomination. Close down this symbol of mass incarceration.”

Bill Weinberg, a Job CBD contributing writer, is a 30-year veteran journalist in the fields of drug coverage, ecology and indigenous peoples. He is a former information editor at Substantial Occasions journal, and he produces the sites CounterVortex.org and World-wide Ganja Report.

Copyright, Challenge CBD. Could not be reprinted with out permission.