Member of:
Justia Lawyer Rating
American Association for Justice
Union Plus

Rikers Island Prisoner Injury Lawyer

Opened in 1932, Rikers Island has a long history of violence, including incidents of prisoner-on-prisoner violence, as well as prisoner abuse at the hands of corrections officers. Because of its well documented history of inhumane conditions and culture of violence, for years there have been calls for closure of or drastic changes at Rikers Island. In fact, since 2015 a consent decree has been in place to, among other things, curb correction officers’ use of excessive force, and in recent years, there have been demands for Rikers to be placed in receivership. A receivership would strip New York City of authority over Rikers and place it in the hands of a federal judge.

Rikers Island Correctional Facility, located in New York City, spans across the East River between Queens and the Bronx. It is one of the largest correctional facilities in the United States. While most prisoners are male, it does house female prisoners at the Rose M. Singer Center. The facility serves as a holding center for defendants awaiting trial or those serving short sentences.

Overcrowding, understaffing, and inadequate training have contributed to a volatile environment within the facility, leading to numerous instances of violence over the years that often resulted in prisoners suffering horrific injuries or dying. In fact, in just the two year period between January 1, 2022 and January 19, 2024, 30 prisoners died at Rikers. Some suspect that the number of deaths have been underreported. As a result of the seemingly non-stop violence despite the 2015 consent decree, there have been calls to strip control over Rikers from the City of New York. If you or someone you know suffered serious injuries while an prisoner at Rikers Island, you have the right to seek justice. Contact a knowledgeable New York Rikers Island prisoner injury lawyer at Stephen Bilkis & Associates. Filing a claim against a correctional facility is complex, requiring strict adherence to procedures. It’s critical to seek the guidance from experience legal professionals.

Types of Prisoner Abuse at Rikers

Rikers has a history of physical violence, sexual abuse, inadequate medical treatment, psychological abuse, and suicide. While some of the violence is between prisoners and there are many instances of prisoners attacking corrections officers and other staff, there is also a disturbing history of corrections officers attacking and abusing prisoners, leading to thousands of lawsuits and substantial payments to victims and their families.

Physical Violence. Physical violence of prisoners by corrections officers is undeniable. While corrections officers are permitted to use force in order to maintain order and to defend themselves, they are not permitted to use excessive force. Many of the reports of abuse against prisoners stem from the use of excessive force. Sadly, based on reports from both prisoners and Rikers Island staff, the incidence of abuse of prisoners by corrections officers is grossly underreported. In 2012 it was found that a Rikers Island warden and his deputy had failed to report hundreds of acts of violence in order to make their jail seem safer than it was. A 2019 review by the Board of Correction found that Rikers consistently underreported serious injuries.

Violence at Rikers’ has become such a problem that the federal government intervened due to concerns about prisoner safety and violations of constitutional rights. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into widespread abuse and neglect at the facility, leading to a consent decree aimed at implementing reforms to improve conditions for prisoners. Nearly 10 years later, not much has changed at Rikers.

The violence against prisoners is not limited to adult prisoners. Teen prisoners are commonly victimized by corrections officers as well. A few years ago, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney released a 79-page report detailing a “deep-seated culture of violence” at Rikers Island’s facilities for teenagers. The report found that teen prisoners were beaten by corrections officers, and the corrections officers were not punished.

Failure to provide medical care. Prisoners have the right to receive adequate and timely medical care. Failure to provide it is a type of abuse. One of the prisoners who died since January 1, 2022, was held because he could not pay the $1,006. Although he was clearly ill, corrections officers did not take him to 9 scheduled medical appointments. Furthermore, he was not given the medicine he was prescribed. Similarly, Anibal Carrasquillo died in June 2022 in the George R. Vierno Center of Rikers Island after complaining of chest pains. Witnesses stated that corrections officers ignored him and as a result, he did not receive medical care.

Sexual assault. NBC News recently reported about a case of sexual abuse at Rikers Island where a 19-year-old female prisoner was groped by a corrections officer and forced to perform oral sex on him. When the prisoner attempted to resist the sexual abuse, she was accused of assaulting the corrections officer and sent to solitary confinement for a year. After she was released, the former prisoner contacted an experienced New York Rikers Island prisoner abuse lawyer to file a lawsuit against the corrections officer and Rikers Island on her behalf. Note that sexual abuse at Rikers is not restricted to male corrections officers abusing female prisoner at Rose M. Singer Center—the women’s facility at Riker’s. A case was recently filed in which a former male prisoner at Rikers filed a lawsuit alleging that a female corrections officer forced him to have sexual intercourse with her and perform oral sex on her. If he refused, she would retaliate against him. These lawsuits are not isolated cases. In the last few years alone, over 475 lawsuits have been filed against Rikers Island corrections officers alleging sexual abuse.

Sexual assault of prisoners committed by other prisoners is also a huge problem at Rikers. In Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825 (1994), the Supreme Court held that prison officials may be liable for failing to protect prisoners from sexual assault by other prisoners if they are deliberately indifferent to the risk of harm. This landmark case established the legal standard for holding correctional authorities responsible for preventing sexual abuse in prisons and jails.

Suicide. The incidence of suicide at Rikers is also disturbing. While suicide is not a form of corrections officer abuse, in some cases in may be the result of psychological abuse or medical neglect. Of the 30 reported deaths at Rikers that occurred between January 1, 2022 and January 19, 2022, at least four of them were suicides. For example, the Vera Institute of Justice report that on August 20, 202, prisoner Michael Nieves died one week after attempting suicide. At the time of he was being held in a psychiatric housing unit due to serious mental illness. Corrections officers failed to respond to his injuries for at least 10 minutes.

Another suicide highlights the problem of psychological abuse at Rikers. One form of punishment or retaliation at Riker’s is to send prisoners to solitary confinement for long periods of time. Studies confirm that extended time in solitary confinement can lead to long-term psychological harm. The harm that can result from extended time in solitary confinement was highlighted in the case of teenager Kalief Browder who spent over 17 months years in solitary. After he was finally released, he committed suicide. His family sued Rikers and received a $3.3 million settlement.

Reasons for Abuse by Corrections Officers at Rikers Island

There are many reasons that corrections officers abuse prisoners at correctional facilities. Some of the most common reasons include a lack of training of corrections officers and the power dynamic between prisoners and corrections officers. However, at Rikers Island, two other issues play a significant part in the amount of correctional officer abuse of prisoners as well as to the well-documented general culture of violence at Rikers. Those reasons are overcrowding and understaffing.

Overcrowding. In an article entitled, “Squalid, Crowded Conditions Return to Rikers Island Intake Center,” the New York Post reported that the Eric M. Taylor Center, where most new DOC admissions, was so overcrowded that detainees did not have access to bathrooms or medical care. Overcrowding can lead not only to illness, but can also lead to mental deterioration. Such conditions also made it difficult for corrections officers to maintain order and can lead to unwarranted use of force. The New York Post article notes that use of force by facility staff at the Eric M. Taylor Center and the rate of slashings and stabbings are higher than the department-wide average, demonstrating a correlation between overcrowding and violence.

Notably, the Otis Bantum Correctional Center’s intake area was closed because it had an overcrowding problem. That the problem persists at other parts of Rikers Island shows just how vulnerable prisoners and detainees at Rikers Island to inhumane treatment.

Understaffing and Improper Staffing. The problem of understaffing and chronic absenteeism has been well-documented at Rikers. While there are more than a sufficient number of corrections officers on the payroll at Rikers, there is a problem of not enough of them showing up for work, resulting in understaffing. The inadequate staffing is a direct result of the power of the union. Correction officers at Rikers Island are unionized under the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association (COBA). The union has been able to negotiate policies that allow for extended leave of absence that results in fewer corrections officers than necessary showing up to work. There is also a shift- bidding process that results in the more experience corrections officers selecting posts that don’t involve contact with prisoners. As a result, oftentimes less experienced corrections officers are assigned to the housing units and other areas with high contact with prisoners. Inexperienced corrections officers are more likely to use excessive force, have less experience with de-escalation strategies, and have less experience responding to medical emergencies.

What to Do If You Have Been Abused

If you have been abused by an corrections officer at Rikers and, as a result, suffered serious injuries, contact an experienced New York Rikers Island prisoner injury lawyer for guidance. You have the right to seek justice by pursuing a personal injury, civil rights, or wrongful death lawsuit against Rikers Island and its staff. However, there is a specific process for filing a lawsuit against Rikers Island or a corrections officer that must be followed. Because Rikers Island is a government entity, before filing a lawsuit, under Section 50-e of the General Municipal Law you must first file a Notice of Claim which generally must be filed within 90 days of the incident. It must be filed with The Comptroller of the City of New York, Municipal Building - Room 1225, 1 Centre Street, New York, New York 10007. Only after the Notice of Claim has been filed without resolution can you proceed to file a lawsuit in court. Note that failure to file a Notice of Claim by the deadline is likely to result in the dismissal of your claim.

Personal Injury Lawsuits. Personal injury lawsuits can be filed by prisoners who have suffered serious physical or psychological injuries as a result of abuse by corrections officers or other prisoners. In these lawsuits, you can seek compensation from the responsible parties, including corrections officers, supervisors, administrators, Rikers Island/Department of Corrections, and the city of New York itself. These parties may be held liable for their own actions or for their failure to prevent or address abuse within the facility. Just like with filing a Notice of Claim, there are strict deadlines for initiating personal injury lawsuits. An experienced Rikers Island prisoner injury attorney in New York can help ensure that all procedural requirements are adhered to.

Civil Rights Lawsuits. Civil rights lawsuits can be filed by prisoners who have experienced violations of their constitutional rights while incarcerated at Rikers Island. These lawsuits allege that the defendants, typically corrections officers or other government officials, violated the plaintiff's rights under the U.S. Constitution, such as the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. To succeed in a civil rights lawsuit, you must demonstrate that the defendant acted under color of law and deprived you of your constitutional rights. This often involves showing deliberate indifference or recklessness on the part of the defendant in causing harm to the plaintiff.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits. Wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by the personal representative of an prisoner who died as a result of abuse or neglect at Rikers Island. These lawsuits seek compensation for the loss of their loved one's life, as well as damages for the emotional pain and suffering endured by the survivors.

To prevail in a wrongful death lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's actions or omissions were the proximate cause of the prisoner's death. This may involve demonstrating negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct on the part of the defendant.

Office of Special Investigations. The New York State Office of Special Investigations (OSI) is responsible for investigating allegations of abuse, misconduct, corruption, and other serious offenses within New York State’s correctional and community supervision system. The OSI is mandated to conduct thorough and independent investigations to ensure accountability and integrity within Rikers Island and other correctional facilities. The primary purpose of an OSI investigation is to subject abusive officers to internal discipline procedures. However, historically, corrections officers are rarely fired, suspended, or in any way disciplined for prisoner abuse.

Contact Stephen Bilkis & Associates

If you've experienced abuse while incarcerated in at Rikers Island or any other New York correctional facility, don't hesitate to seek legal assistance from an experienced Rikers Island prisoner injury attorney serving New York. At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, our team is dedicated to advocating for your rights and holding those responsible accountable for their actions. We understand the complexities of prisoner abuse cases and will work tirelessly to pursue justice on your behalf. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and discuss your legal options for seeking compensation and holding abusers accountable for their misconduct. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, Manhattan, Nassau County, Staten Island, Suffolk County, Bronx, and Westchester County.

Client Reviews
When my mom, who is suffering from dementia, faced a slip and fall personal injury lawsuit, I contacted Stephen Bilkis of the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates. Not only did he provide a strategy for defending the claim, he also advised me on steps to take to avoid future personal liability. Whether you are the defendant or plaintiff in an injury case, I highly recommend Mr. Bilkis. S.M.
From the very first phone call to Stephen Bilkis' office, the staff was extremely polite and helpful in assisting me. Mr. Bilkis was honest and upfront with me from the beginning in what he projected the outcome of my case would be; in the end we got better results than either of us anticipated. He was very genuine and compassionate in understanding my situation and how this legal matter could effect not only myself but my family as well. I highly recommend this law firm and will most definitely continue using them for any future legal needs. Jarrett
I had my first encounter with Mr. Stephen Bilkis three years ago over the phone. He and his staff have been nothing but courtesy and professional. Their hard work ended with a large six-figure settlement for my case. I would highly recommend you contact his office. I want to give a special THANK YOU to Ms. Tricia Krapf. She always made me feel like a priority and was always kind and professional over the phone and email. I highly recommend them to anyone in need of legal representation. Celesta