HR: How are social work ethics and values challenged when you work in solitary confinement? That’s changed now. An awareness of the system, of bail, that people were innocent of the crimes they were charged with. I was so discouraged. I remember years ago when I worked in a drug rehab in the South Bronx for parolees. People would knock on the door and say, “Help. In October 2019, the New York City council voted to close down the jail complex by 2026. It was very jarring for me psychologically. T o understand the hell we call Rikers Island, there’s no one better to ask than Mary Buser. And when he got arrested for stealing his wife said, “We should have just let the baby pee on the floor. She looked to NASW and there was nothing. With Jon Alpert, Jackie, Jimmy Mirabel, Miguel 'Chino' Santiago. The City Council of New York voted 36-13 Thursday to approve a plan to close the city's notorious jail complex on Rikers Island by 2026 in favor of four smaller jails spread out across the city. I saw this with men, too. I met with Mary Buser at her studio apartment in downtown Brooklyn, and she was as friendly and warm as her dog, Cha Cha, who sat in on the interview. It was during the time that Giuliani was mayor. Photo of Rikers Island via Wikimedia Commons. The Department of Correction said it issued guidance in April requiring all staff, regardless of their posts, to wear a face mask, to have latex gloves and to practice social distancing when possible. I don’t believe that this practice could continue in its current form without the participation of health workers. We see aftermath of violence, different units, a drug search in one of the prison units, judge visits etc. Board of Correction staffers observed phones being cleaned between inmate calls only 6% of the time, according to its April report. I was burned out, but not ready to leave. He thought the only answer was to get himself arrested. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. They employ alcohol pads from medical units and the barber shop to sanitize items that are shared among inmates, such as landline phones, and some put socks over the receivers. It had a militaristic tone to it. A Rikers Island inmate spent nearly two hours recording a Facebook live video from behind the jail’s walls where he complained about conditions, took a phone call and recorded his friends. "We've seen a dramatic change," MacDonald said. Know that there are organizations that are supporting change and try to plug into them. And I would say: These charts aren’t confidential. Limiting Access Is Unforgivable. I never expected to be in a situation like that personally or professionally. It will take the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the American Psychological Association (APA) to address this. We are not benign bystanders. Then confidentiality was compromised. He’s the only one that comes to mind who didn’t have a drug problem. Rikers Island, a series of buildings built on an island spanning over 400 acres, is the main correctional area that serves all of New York City. Correctional Health Services screens people who are presented by the Department of Correction before being released to identify anyone who should self-isolate and connects those who need a place to self-isolate with hotels, according to the health services agency. The problem was, you had 500 people, and they would give you one escort who would take half an hour—someone in solitary has to be searched, shackled, belly chains. more than 15 days in solitary confinement with torture. One man I discuss in the book got himself arrested because he was HIV-positive and he couldn’t stop using drugs. The first thing we did was go to NASW to take a stand. She was getting preferential treatment, but at what cost? Wayne Pritchard, 51, was held in Rikers for a parole violation and released on April 27 after arguing he was at risk of developing complications of the virus. He had a very low IQ. Rikers,Island,Diane What I did was, all my chart notes were very vague. You couldn’t do therapy. The complex is New York 's most notorious jail having housed high-profile inmates like Tupac Shakur, musician Sid Vicious, and Mark David Chapman, the man who shot and killed Beatles singer … "If I don't have gloves and I'm touching all this stuff I still have to do my job either way.". I left Rikers for a few years. ‘, They bang and slap the doors, sweaty palms sliding down the windows. [But] I got an op-ed published in the. The, I said, “Hang on, just look at me. Most had a mental observation unit, a chief physician and a warden. Correctional Health Services data showed a decrease in positive cases starting in mid-April. However, it’s their expectation that social workers conduct themselves in accordance with the Code of Ethics. The Department of Corrections ran it, it wasn’t run by the Mental Health department. It was the ultimate clash between security and confidentiality. MB: Go for it if this something that calls you. Well, that’s all well and good until you actually get in there. You’re going to deliberately do this to get time off of work for Christmas?” They said they were kidding, but they weren’t. Family Of Nicolas Feliciano, Teen Who Attempted Suicide At Rikers Island, Files 2 Lawsuits Against NYCThey say guards left the 19-year-old hanging for seven minutes before coming to his aid. A former guard’s photos reveal a rare glimpse of “the box,” the notorious New York City jail’s solitary confinement cells. When I started at Rikers I was a naive social work intern working with women. I saw retribution to people who pointed the finger and it was horrible. Those recommended for release were on Rikers Island on a pretrial basis, meaning they had not been convicted of crimes, were serving city sentences of 1 year or less, or were there because of state parole holds, board member Dr. Bobby Cohen told CNN. There was no support from her supervisor. HR: Has that changed? During a search, he was devastated when his glasses were taken from him. Acknowledge that 15 days is torture. I don’t believe that this practice could continue in its current form without the participation of health workers. As a Cop, I Know Police Contempt for Drug Users Is Still Widespread—And It Comes From the Top, With the Focus on Opioids, Don’t Forget About Meth and Cocaine, Virginia Court Decides Homeless “Habitual Drunkards” Don’t Deserve Due Process. Lockdown on Rikers is an explication of how people with the best of intentions inside correctional institutions try to help the most vulnerable. To understand the hell we call Rikers Island, there’s no one better to ask than Mary Buser. “Don’t bother replacing the injections. I’d go back up and make sure they got a magazine. Ultimately, a burned-out and jaded Buser resigned, realizing that she could no longer make a difference. I’m not high right now, I will be getting high, I have this window right now—can you help me?” I didn’t say this to them, but the reality was you had to get arrested, take some kind of a plea to get into a drug treatment program. These are ordinary people who’ve made a mistake, who don’t have the options that a middle-class person has to get money. HR: You talk in the book about doing individual and group therapy. Know that there are organizations that are supporting change and try to plug into them. It’s so easy to say, “I’ll never say I did something that I didn’t do.” It’s so easy to say that from a distance. I was connecting with women, many around their drug addiction. It was about a 10-year process to get the book published. It was a tough situation because Legal Aid, rightly so, said this is a breach of confidentiality. (CNN)As coronavirus cases began spiking in New York City in March, officials worried that the city's notorious jail system on Rikers Island could become a powder keg inside the epicenter of the pandemic. But by the time I wound up on the “bing” where my profession calls upon me to uphold the dignity of human life and I’m looking at someone who is now babbling incoherently, I’m working on treating him, assessing suicide risk, it’s a real dilemma. But inmates are not allowed to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which the CDC recommends for preventing spread of the virus, as it is considered contraband by the Department of Correction because it is flammable. Just think, a week from Tuesday you’ll be out and you and I are going to meet in the clinic and sit and talk.” I’d make a little pact with people, try to get them to hold on. I Recently Used Naloxone to Save a Life. How can they be talking about taking a vacation in Florida when we have this inhumanity of solitary confinement that no one understands the scope of? ", New York state's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has been working to release technical. As he crossed the bridge over to the island, a prison guard told him to "get ready for Gladiator School". Let them know someone cared about them. "We are taking every precautionary measure to keep our personnel and people in custody safe," Peter Thorne, the top spokesman for the Department of Correction, the city agency that oversees Rikers, said in a statement to CNN when asked about unions' lawsuits. It was awful. ... Rikers Island is not a prison. The biggest case that points that out is Kalief Browder, who came in as a normal 16-year old kid accused of stealing a backpack. And frankly, nonviolent offenses in a community where, I don’t want to say it’s the norm, but this is how a lot of people get by. An awareness of the system, of bail, that people were innocent of the crimes they were charged with. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday he was disappointed with those who have allegedly committed new crimes since being released from Rikers Island. HR: One of the things you say throughout the book is that it’s astonishing how much time people get for drug-related crimes. It’s going to take a heightened awareness around this. Acknowledge that 15 days is torture. Some have been rearrested for robberies, assault, violating orders of protection from domestic violence victims, narcotics charges and attempted rape, the official told CNN. New York officials worried that the city’s notorious jail system on Rikers Island could become a powder keg inside the epicenter of the pandemic. On the one hand I’m doing really good work. The jail is full of poor people with mental health and drug problems, homeless people, and survivors of trauma and gang violence. He called in sick from work toward the end of March and hasn't been back since, the employee said. Why does someone have to get involved in law enforcement, has to get handcuffed as opposed to going to a program, knocking on the door and saying, “I need help” and being admitted? She was getting preferential treatment, but at what cost? And you have to get medications renewed. And I started to see what these people were up against. HR: Can you tell me about STEP, the program for people with drug addictions at Rikers Island? We would cull out anyone in the general population who appeared to have a mental illness. When I worked in solitary confinement, with Legal Aid we would go door-to-door. Diane Sawyer went inside the unit called punitive segregation, where inmates are locked up for up to 23 hours a day. One of the eight buildings on Rikers Island, the Eric M. Taylor Center, is now being used as a quarantine unit for 180 people who have coronavirus symptoms and those who have tested positive for the disease. They were going to provoke a patient who was mentally ill, very fragile and potentially explosive, and create an incident. There are 10 separate jails on Rikers Island. ‘Please miss, please,’ he whispers. I kept looking around me and saying, this is the United States, we’re progressive on human rights, we have board-certified doctors, white lab coats, the American flag flying above the jail. I saw retribution to people who pointed the finger and it was horrible. And that's exactly what we're seeing. Should social workers refuse to work in these correctional settings when our Code of Ethics, as I understand it, is so compromised? Be aware of what’s going on on the outside. From a practical standpoint you were forced to have conversations that weren’t private. MB: It’s a sad commentary as to how desperate and chaotic people’s lives can be outside of jail. They weren’t in a position to get treatment. You know, we'll probably see crime rates ebb and flow in different areas, and we'll be ready to respond accordingly," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said this week. And when my charts were reviewed I was sometimes criticized for not being specific. I started smoking cigarettes, I would have to smoke a cigarette to gird myself before I went up to see what we were going to face. The program was run by correction officers and the Captains. About a week after the first jail system employee died on March 15 from Covid-19, a correctional officer on Rikers Island began feeling symptoms -- a cough, headache and eventually a fever and trouble breathing, he said, speaking with CNN on the condition of anonymity because he fears losing his job. The warden told him, “You should no longer consider yourself safe in this jail.” That’s quite a statement for the warden to make and it means if there is a problem, the COs won’t come to your aid. Husamudeen said his union and others that represent jail workers have sued the city twice to get more protective equipment for workers, among other issues. CNN spoke with several inmates, correction officers, advocates, city officials and law enforcement officials to get a picture of what has happened at Rikers since March 1, the day New York City reported, It is difficult to tell if the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 among inmates in the city's jail system. We had a saying, “If they didn’t have a mental health issue before they entered solitary, they do now.” The relationship between civilians and correction staff was always a little tense, [but] here the deputy warden in charge couldn’t have been more welcoming. I felt very privileged for people to share their deepest fears and to expose themselves, and I protected that fiercely. I was chain-smoking when I worked at Rikers, and when I left I was able to stop completely. All the women accepted into the drug rehab program lived in the same dorm, they wore the same garb. There were some beautiful moments but there was this growing anger anD the scales started to tip. Burning Issues: A Call to Liberate Vapes and Vapers, NYC’s New Non-Police Mental Health Crisis Response Still Resembles Policing, Leaked FBI Report: Drug Sellers Practice Harm Reduction, Canada Is So Close to Decriminalizing Drugs: Let’s Make It Happen, 21 to Drink? We are not benign bystanders. I. it’s wrong. "There are a number of people who are leaving these jails and coming back to our community.". I asked, what is this poor man doing on Rikers Island? Buser worked at Rikers Island in the 1990s, during the reign of “tough on crime” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the crack era which drove racist mass incarceration. "You know, we'll be fluid and adapt to conditions as more people start coming out. It is also one of the most troubled. One can see its sprawling compound on certain flights out, but for most people, no thought is given to what goes on behind the walls; the lives that are shuffled through while awaiting sentencing, the various insufferable horrors that are committed and sometimes documented in local … One of her duties was to assess the mental health of prisoners in the “bing”—the nickname for the five-story modern dungeon of solitary confinement cells, with 100 human beings per floor. That is what held the whole place together: Sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs. On April 5, Michael Tyson, who was incarcerated on Rikers Island but was being treated for coronavirus by Correctional Health Services at a hospital, became the first inmate on Rikers Island to die from complications of the virus. Most people in solitary, 75 percent, were there for nonviolent offenses. The nicotine relaxed and steadied everything. ", Coronavirus spread in prison won't stay behind bars, Neglecting those in prisons and detention facilities in the pandemic could be catastrophic, UN says, The most alarming coronavirus numbers in some states are in prisons and nursing homes, Coronavirus cases in California prisons multiplied in days and inmates fear further spread, New York City Council votes in 2019 to close notorious Rikers Island jail, Hand sanitizer is still considered contraband in some prisons around the country, 51 additional people released from Rikers Island due to underlying health concern, Coronavirus is tearing through prison and jail populations in Ohio and Illinois. The City Council approved plans on Thursday to close Rikers, a jail complex with nearly 10,000 beds , by 2026. Then I became the acting chief in the solitary confinement unit. that if they ever legalized drugs—at the time we had 20,000 inmates on Rikers—we’d have eight people left. When I came back I had an awareness that I didn’t have as a student. In the weeks since, correctional officials handed out masks. Just think, a week from Tuesday you’ll be out and you and I are going to meet in the clinic and sit and talk.” I’d make a little pact with people, try to get them to hold on. [But] I got an op-ed published in the Washington Post on solitary confinement, and the New York Times did a story on Rikers, on the brutality there, that validated what I was trying to say. He was taking her to a trailer behind the jail. I left. Seventy percent of the agency's facilities are less than half full and the number of symptomatic, quarantined inmates was decreasing, Commissioner Cynthia Brann said Tuesday at a public meeting. They wrap their faces with do-rags and T-shirts when masks are not available and use shampoo to clean themselves when they can't get soap. "I'm touching all this mail, I'm delivering it to every single inmate," said the worker, who takes mail to and from inmates at multiple units and said he didn't get a mask to wear to work until March 19. HR: What are your recommendations for social work students who want to work in correctional settings? They work inside a system that routinely abuses people physically and psychologically, and they document it. The Captain of the clinic was reading through the charts like a newspaper. And I learned that people won’t “get their day in court.” Your day in court could be years and years away and you’re expected to survive Rikers, to give up your family, everything. Correction workers also warn their jobs are more unsafe than ever, as the number of employees with the coronavirus continues to climb. I saw a lot of men who were in jail for dealing and selling drugs. On August 18, 2012, inmate Jason Echevarria swallowed a packet of powdered detergent, that had been given to inmates to clean out their cells, after there was a leakage of raw sewage from the toilets. Do you have enough to read? Among those moving in and out of jails are more than 11,000 Department of Correction employees. I left. And there are many women I spoke with who said, “Jail saved my life.” Women who had mental health problems and used drugs. I know a social worker who spoke up about the way people with mental illness were being treated and she was bullied, mocked. I was angry at what the hell was going on, balanced with the good that I was doing in my groups with women who had HIV and with gang members. He was taking her to a trailer behind the jail. So how much noise are you going to make? Healthcare workers, social workers who work in there, we are an integral part of this practice. I wouldn’t write anything specific, about any charges, or about an altercation they had with a CO. For the women it was more possession, steering, look-outs. "Sometimes, we clean the phones with alcohol pads. During the Civil War, Rikers Island served as a military training facility. When they gave out, the head-banging, feces-smearing, makeshift nooses and incoherent babbling create just completely broken human beings. And I learned that people. Here's what life is like inside Rikers Island. After close to a month of investigation, authorities now feel confident enough to confirm: Somebody probably did those drugs. New York City has pledged to close down the troubled Rikers Island jail facility within the next few years. They could have reading materials. “I hesitate, dreading the walk through the gauntlet of misery. It’s everything to me. I can’t do that. I’d go back up and make sure they got a magazine. I think we are in very sad shape ethically. Many of the inmates and various people working in the law enforcement field are interviewed. As an individual you are powerless. They need to take a stand. HR: In the book you talk about jail being a safe place for people. The meds can only go so far. There is, somewhere inside the Rikers Island Correctional Facility, a safe stocked with with a stash of ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana. Her stunning, award-winning debut book, Lockdown on Rikers: Shocking Stories of Abuse and Injustice at New York’s Notorious Jail, published in 2015, opened many eyes and strengthened the growing #CloseRikers movement. I thought my promotion to assistant chief was going to get me off the frontlines. They would be seen pretty quickly by a doctor, especially if they were psychotic, and started on medication. MB: STEP is an acronym for Self-Taught Empowerment Pride. "It was inevitable that coronavirus was going to get to Rikers, and once it did, it would be a complete disaster. The smell of vomit and feces hangs in the hot, thick air … I can see the inmates’ faces—dark-skinned, young—pressed up against the windows, eyes wild with panic. "We understand the reason to release people at Rikers. Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte acknowledged that changing the culture of violence will take time. Correctional Health Services doctor, Rachael Bedard, who didn't treat Tyson directly, Tyson was being held on Rikers Island because of a technical parole violation, and his death prompted the Legal Aid Society's attorney-in-charge of criminal defense Tina Luongo to warn, "As the virus reaches its apex, many more will succumb unless the Governor and (the state corrections agency) act immediately to address the humanitarian crisis in our jails and prisons. Echevarria began vomiting and complaining of severe pain. When I met him he was counting potato chips to see if there was the right amount in the bag. People in custody tell CNN they still sleep in beds that are a few feet apart, share phones that are not cleaned between uses, have trouble getting new masks and access to soap. He began an affair with her. Kelsey De Avila, a social worker with Brooklyn Defender Services who normally visits inmates on Rikers Island, tries to do video visits with her clients, but it takes weeks to get a spot, she said. But this man had no idea what he was doing. ‘We’re dying in here, miss, we’re dying!‘ The officer opens the creaking door and steps back … For a moment Troy Jackson and I stare at one another. MB: When I was at Rikers there were 10 jails, and each had a clinic. He has tested positive for Covid-19 three times and still had a fever nearly 40 days later. "I'm disappointed in anyone who was shown mercy and turns around and commits an offense.
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