Rikers Island Jail is jail complex with just over 10,000 beds used to house citizens and non-citizens that violate laws in and around New York City. For many years this jail has been a point of controversy, and perennially ranked high among the nations ten worst jails. Currently, as the nation attempts to navigate new norms of social distancing and virtual workplaces, inmates, especially those at Rikers Island, are becoming increasingly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. Jail does offer opportunities for social isolation, but it is nothing that anyone would likely opt-in for and is more often used to punish inmates. Officials are releasing low-level violator (e.g., non-violent and many of them cannabis related) inmates by the hundred. Interestingly, upon release, NYC offers each inmate a cell phone, cab fare, and a hotel room. 3 days ago, 52 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19. In the last 72-hours, it is possible that this virus has spread to hundreds of other inmates, correctional officer, delivery workers, family members, and anyone else who has had contact with anyone from the jail in the last two-weeks. This week we examine the COVID-19 outbreak from the perspective of inmates in Rikers Island with a phenomenological lens to attempt to communicate the lived experience of being incarcerated during a crisis such as this, public health in the context of a carceral society, and opportunities for social change as a result of inequities laid bare for all to see.
LO1: Understand the complexities of experiencing incarceration during a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
LO2: Explain how models of criminal social construction are forced to adapt when confronted with potential for cruel and unusual punishment.
LO3: Discuss why it is important to use opportunities like the COVID-19 outbreak to motivate social change that can improve our society.
Rikers Island Rate Of Coronavirus Infection 7 Times Higher Than Citywide
The Coronavirus is spreading rapidly through New York City, even more so at Rikers Island and other jails, according to Legal Aid Society. The organization says the infection rate at local jails is more than seven times higher than the rate citywide and 87 times higher than the country at large. Katie Johnston reports.
“Top Priority Is Release”: Will Rikers Island Free More Prisoners as 60+ Test Positive for COVID-19?
As COVID-19 begins to spread in the U.S. prison system, calls are growing in the New York City epicenter of the pandemic to release people from Rikers Island, the second-largest jail system in the country. At least 39 prisoners and 21 staff at Rikers Island have tested positive. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday the city had released 75 people, but advocates are calling for the release of thousands more. We speak with Dr. Homer Venters, former chief medical officer for New York City’s Correctional Health Services and author of “Life and Death in Rikers Island.” His piece for The Hill is headlined “Coronavirus behind bars: 4 priorities to save the lives of prisoners.”
Coronavirus: New York prison inmates to mass produce hand sanitizer
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced the state has begun making its own hand sanitizer in response to shortages and reports of price gouging, as cases of coronavirus grow. The estimated 380,000 litres (100,000 gallon) supply will be produced by prisoners. ‘We’ll be providing this to governmental agencies, schools, the MTA, prisons, etc., because you can’t get it on the market,’ Cuomo said
What are the implications for decriminalization and mass de-incarceration as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak? Do you believe numbers of people who are currently incarcerated will increase, decrease, or stay the same immediately following the outbreak? Why? Does the fact that these people are inmates justify their exploitation to mass produce safety supplies for medical professionals and others?
From a functionalist perspective, if criminals are being released from jail because their offense is deemed to be less deserving of incarceration at this time, then will the criminal justice system need to reevaluate their position on these charges? What are the functions of laws that, when broken, do not require incarceration? How might this change influence the prison-industrial complex?
From a symbolic-interactionist perspective, how would you imagine the experience of being incarcerated during this crisis to be like? How might social interactions be influenced? What are the opportunities for stigma to develop? What opportunities for code-switching might manifest? How is it possible to isolate people even further who are already isolated from society without jeopardizing their mental stability?
Given the realization that felons and other recently released inmates will undoubtedly face challenges finding work, housing, food, and safety during this time, what measures does the federal government need to put in place for folks released from Rikers Island? Where should they be housed to protect them and everyone else from contamination?
How does the social value of incarcerated people influence their attitudes and behaviors toward supporting inmates during this crisis? Why might resources be diverted away from Rikers Island and instead given to hospitals in the area? How does this perpetuate the modern narrative that imprisonment is a normal and reasonable consequence for violating a social norm?
- Search Results Web results The Secret Plan to Lock Down Coronavirus in NYC Jails
- Spread of coronavirus accelerates in U.S. jails and prisons
- 38 people, including 21 inmates, test positive for coronavirus in New York City jails
- This is Rikers
- ‘We Feel Like All of Us Are Gonna Get Corona.’ Anticipating COVID-19 Outbreaks, Rikers Island Offers Warning For U.S. Jails, Prisons
- Top official says New York City coronavirus jail outbreak is a crisis, dozens infected
- “Top Priority Is Release”: Will Rikers Island Free More Prisoners as 60+ Test Positive for COVID-19?
- Confirmed Coronavirus Cases Rise In NYC Jails, Increasing Pressure To Release People In Custody
- More Than 50 Inmates In New York Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus
A _______ theorist would likely be interested in researching the lived experience of being incarcerated on Rikers Island during the COVID-19 outbreak.
b. Rational Choice
A _______ theorist would likely be interested in researching how social institutions respond to the outbreak of COVID-19 among Rikers Island inmates in an attempt to maintain social order.
b. Rational Choice
A _______ theorist would likely be interested in researching how revelation of social problems creating conflict over who and who is not incarcerated and how the COVID-19 outbreak can facilitate social change.
b. Rational Choice
Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/Valerii Evlakhov