It was announced on Tuesday, September 27, that New York City has settled with the family of a mentally ill Rikers Island inmate who died in custody for $5.75 million. The information was provided to the press by attorneys for the family and the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project, who helped work on the case. Bradley Ballard died in his cell after being locked in for six days without his medication or any medical attention. The 39-year-old man suffered from diabetes that required daily insulin injections and was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. In addition to withholding his medications, Ballard’s cell had no running water. When a prison doctor was finally sent to his holding chamber, he found Ballard nude and covered in his own feces with a piece of cloth tied forcefully around his genitals, which had led to a severe case of sepsis. He died a short time later, with the city’s medical examiner determining his death to be a homicide. According to the family’s legal team, this is the largest amount ever paid in relation to the fatality of an inmate in NYC.
A review conducted by the New York State Commission of Correction indicated numerous prison guards and medical personnel had passed by Ballard’s cell over the course of the six days, but not one of them provided any help to the undeniably ill man. It also claimed Corizon Health Inc., the city’s previous medical provider responsible for the care of Rikers’ inmates, violated the law by willfully failing to intervene and “were directly implicated in his death.” The report stated both the medical and security staff employed by the prison were “so incompetent and inadequate as to shock the conscience.” The Commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections, Joseph Ponte, who took the post after Ballard’s death, made a statement regarding the incident, despite not having held the position when the tragedy took place, saying, “Bradley Ballard’s death was a tragedy and our hearts go out to his family. We have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of any inmate.”
However, the prison has a long and storied history of controversy surrounding its safety, security, living conditions and treatment of inmates; Rikers is one of the largest prisons in the United states, boasting a daily population of roughly 10,000 inmates. Recent years have seen innumerable guards face criminal charges ranging from illegally smuggling contraband into the facility to felony assault of prisoners, with one guard pleading guilty in 2012 to covering up an inmate assault by a fellow guard that led to the prisoner’s death.
In Ballard’s case, which was filed in 2014 by his mother, Beverly Ann Griffin, the city made it clear the list of defendants did not admit to any fault or responsibility in spite of the settlement. One of the lawyers who represented Ms. Griffin, Jonathan Abady, stated, “I don’t think anyone can recall a case where the abuse and mistreatment was more egregious. This was a total system failure, an astonishing display of inhuman treatment,” and that the amount of the settlement “provides no consolation. There’s no victory or happy ending here.”