·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Verdicts & Settlements

Rikers Island Inmates Win $980,000 Settlement

— October 22, 2019

The four men say Rikers officials transferred them to an Albany jail for the sole purpose of circumventing New York City ordinances.

Four Rikers Island inmates have won $980,000 as part of a legal settlement against New York City.

The New York Times provides a recounting of Davon Washington’s experience.

Washington, says the Times, ‘thought he was going to die’ just last year. He’d been transferred away from Rikers Island, accused of assaulting a guard. Prison officials, retaliating, shipped him 100 miles upstate, to a facility near Albany.

There, Washington claims, he was brutally attacked by corrections staff. They beat him, chipping his teeth, splitting his lips and covering his body in bruises.

Riker's Island; image by U.S. Geological Survey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Riker’s Island; image by U.S. Geological Survey, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Immediately afterward, Washington was sentenced to serve an entire year in solitary confinement.

According to The New York Times, Washington was one of four detainees who sued New York in 2018. He and his fellow plaintiffs accused the city of sending young inmates to Albany County Correctional Facility to circumvent local restrictions on youth punishment.

Altogether, they claim Rikers officials knew that transferred inmates would be beaten and put in solitary once they reached Albany.

On Friday, the four reached a $980,000 settlement with New York. Its mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced a policy reversal and said young inmates will no longer be sent from jails in the state’s largest city to its capital.

“In the future, nobody will have to go through what we went through,” Washington told the Times in a Friday phone interview. “They won’t have to experience that feeling.”

As the New York Times notes, the Big Apple prohibits the use of solitary confinement for inmates 21 and younger. It was among several of Mayor de Blasio’s initiatives to effect criminal justice reform locally. He’d made the decision to implement the ban after the death of Kalief Browder, another young man who spent three years at Rikers Island, most of it in isolation.

Not long after being released, Browder committed suicide.

While Browder’s untimely, unnecessary death prompted de Blasio to push reform, Rikers officials weren’t interested in complying. The Times suggests that corrections chiefs ‘quietly stepped up a practice of sending young inmates who they believed posed a security or safety risk to jails outside the city, where they could be kept in isolation for months.’

De Blasio, at first, defended Rikers, saying prisons and jails sometimes must transfer inmates. But as part of the settlement, his office said they’d pull Albany from its list of alternative facilities while extending further protections to accused or convicted youth.

“We believe there are a small number of cases where a transfer makes sense to protect the safety and security of individuals in our facilities,” said de Blasio spokeswoman Avery Cohen in a statement. “The settlement will result in a more transparent process, which we believe is in the best interest of all parties.”

Doug Lieb, an attorney for Washington and his co-plaintiffs, said the almost-$1 million pay-out should send a message.

“Hopefully, this case sends a message: the city can’t absolve itself of responsibility from what happens to its detainees just by transferring them,” Lieb said. “They should monitor and prevent a situation where detainees are being brutalized or treated in an unlawful manner.”


Beaten and Left in Solitary Confinement, He Thought He Would Die

NYC pauses transfers of Rikers Island inmates to Albany amid allegations of abuse

Join the conversation!