Rikers Prison Guard Accused of Raping Inmates
New York City has reached a $1.2 million settlement with two women who allege that a Rikers Island prison guard repeatedly raped and sexually abused them. Rikers continues to be under intense public scrutiny, following reports of excessive force and violence at the correctional facility.
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According to the New York Times, the lawsuit alleges that Rose M. Singer Center women’s jail contains a “pervasive culture of rape and other sexual abuse.” The environment allegedly gives guards a “perceived free hand to retaliate” against women who report the abuse.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two inmates, one is now in a state prison and the other lives in Queens. The women allege that the officer, Benny Santiago, is “a serial sexual predator,” and that inmates have been reporting sexual abuse by him for years. NYT reports that the lawsuit was slated for trial this week in the Federal District Court in Manhattan before Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein.
The plaintiffs are identified as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2. Jane Doe 1 alleges that the guard began raping her in 2008; the alleged abuse continued for over four years, according to NYT. She said she did not “complain about Santiago’s abuse because he let me know that he could hurt my family.”
Jane Doe 2 alleges that Santiago abused and raped her repeatedly in 2013. She says she did not report the officer because he threatened to “write me an infraction and send me to solitary confinement.” According to the brief, NYT reports, Jane Doe 2 eventually told a mental health professional about the rape. However, she was allegedly told that nothing could be done. The city eventually conducted an investigation, but Santiago reportedly was not subject to any disciplinary actions.
Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci commented on the settlement, stating “The city is committed to protecting all the individuals entrusted to its care from sexual abuse, and has implemented numerous reforms in this regard.”
Paolucci stated that the settlement “was in the best interest of the city.”
A correction spokeswoman told NYT that Santiago still works as a correction officer, but he no longer has contact with inmates.
New York State Says Rikers is Too Dangerous for Inmate Transfers
Rikers remains under public scrutiny due to reports of violence. NYT recently reported that the State Commission of Correction, a state oversight agency, just halted all inmate transfers to the prison from outside New York City. Usually, these transfers involve inmates who face a higher risk of violence at jails in their home counties; they include inmates like former correction officers or gang leaders.
State officials say that Rikers Island is so dangerous that inmates outside the five boroughs can no longer be transferred there. The facility failed to comply with minimum safety standards.
“Given the critical security nature of the operations associated with these findings, coupled with the extended period during which no substantive, departmentwide corrective actions appear to have been implemented, the Commission of Correction concluded that this restrictive step was both appropriate and necessary,” the agency said in a letter to city officials.
Last month, a report published by an independent monitoring team found that Rikers Island guards continue to use brutal force at an “alarming rate”. These violent actions include punching them in the head, slamming them into walls, dousing them with pepper spray, dragging and kicking them while handcuffed, and other brutal methods. The report also found that guards lie about the brute force they use against inmates, and that they resort to violence when verbal commands or de-escalation techniques would have also worked.
In 2015, a judge approved a settlement agreement aimed to improve conditions at Rikers. The recent report is the third of its kind to be released since approval. “While the reforms required by the consent judgment are far too new to have resulted in significant decreases in inmate violence, the rates of violence were not expected to increase,” the report stated.
Inmate fights are on the rise, especially among younger prisoners.
Between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016, the report identified 305 altercations involving a strike to the head. This is only meant to be used as a last resort, but the report found that “many were utilized to punish, discipline or retaliate against an inmate.”
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