New York City settled a lawsuit brought against its infamous Rikers Island facility on Monday, just over a month after Mayor Bill de Blaisio vowed to close the notorious jail.
The settlement awarded an undisclosed amount of money to two women who claim they were repeatedly raped by a guard. The duo, both of whom were inmates at Rikers Island, filed a suit in May of 2015, accusing New York of ignoring a “pervasive culture” of sexual abuse and exploitation. The plaintiffs held the city accountable for failing to respond to warnings and an untold number of complaints.
Originally proposed as a class action, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled in January 2016 that the case could only move forward with their claims individually. Reuters notes the plaintiffs were not identified in court documents but were referred to only as Jane Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2.
Rikers Island’s as a whole has come under intense scrutiny over the course of the past several years. Mayor Bill de Blaisio announced in March 2017 that he’d back a plan to close the jail within a decade. New York’s leadership is hoping the facility, which consists of low-lying buildings on an island just north of LaGuardia Airport, can be replaced by dozens of smaller, borough-based lock-ups.
“This is a very serious, sober, forever decision,” said de Blaisio in March. The mayor has long been a proponent of ridding the city of Rikers Island.
“Once you’re off, you’re off,” he said, suggesting any measure against Rikers which passes will not be reversed.
The mayor and other New York City politicians and council members explain the decision as practical and necessary. While the Five Boroughs have long been associated with organized crime and murder in the American popular imagination, crime rates have fallen considerably since the early 1990s.
Today, New York has the lowest all-around crime rate of any large city in the United States. Homicide rates across the metropolis, once among the worst in the nation, now pale when compared to urban centers like Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis.
De Blaisio and his advisers believe the drop in overall crime, which includes robbery, larceny, and other assorted offenses besides homicide, means the city can do without Rikers for the foreseeable future.
He even went so far as to say the closure of the island’s correctional facility would be a victory for “human dignity.”
Numerous lawsuits and controversies have cropped up in connection to Rikers Island over the years. In July 2015 alone, there were 21 gang-related slashings as well as a single stabbing. The harsh conditions imposed upon inmates, including frequent lockdowns and pervasive corruption among correctional officers, has finally culminated in what might just turn out to be the closure of a blemish on the face of New York.