A female inmate at Rikers Island told the New York Daily News that a correction officer raped her in a padlocked storage room at the prison on November 30. New York City’s Department of Corrections is currently facing a federal lawsuit alleging that female inmates at Rikers are routinely raped by COs.
Jacqueline Healy is currently awaiting trial on robbery charges at Rikers’ Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s facility. She told the News that the officer ordered her into a “closet-sized room surrounded by safety glass,” padlocked the door, and raped her. She said she waited two weeks to report the attack, fearing retaliation from the CO, and sent her clothes to two female relatives outside the jail, asking them to have them tested for his DNA. Healey also told the News an officer forced her to perform oral sex in 2011, during a previous bid at Rikers, but that authorities there didn’t believe her due to a lack of DNA.
The Department of Corrections says there were 28 inmate rapes at Rikers in the last year. But New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said in an affidavit her office believes that number is dramatically undercounted, alleging that 98 percent of sexual abuse claims made last year to the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene weren’t investigated at all. The DOH is tasked with overseeing healthcare at Rikers; James’ office says they told the DOC about 116 sexual abuse allegations made by inmates in 2014, including 28 rape allegations, but that the DOC only reported two of them to the NYPD.
James submitted that affidavit in support of a class action lawsuit against the city and the Department of Corrections. The suit, brought on behalf of anonymous female inmates by the Legal Aid Society, alleged that correction officers at Rikers “are allowed to exploit the authority of their position to repeatedly rape women in their care,” according to Legal Aid. It also alleged that COs retaliated against women who made sexual abuse claims, with tactics that included placing them in solitary or depriving them of food:
This retaliation includes placing them in punitive segregation based on false disciplinary charges, threats and other verbal abuse, deprivation of food for extended periods of time, and refusing to permit women to bathe. “Sexual violence is at record proportions in DOC, and rape and other sexual abuse of women are endemic at the Rose M. Singer Center, the women’s jail at Rikers, “ said Seymour W. James, the Attorney-in-Charge of The Legal Aid Society. “ According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), RMSC is one of the twelve worst jails in the country regarding rates of staff sexual misconduct. Nationwide, 3.2% of jail inmates reported sexual victimization, but at RMSC the rate was 8.6%, and sexual victimization rates were higher at RMSC than at the other Rikers jails in the survey. According to the DOJ survey, approximately 5.9% of RMSC inmates reported sexual abuse by staff.”
The suit asked the court to order the DOC to come up with a plan to better protect female inmates. It’s still continuing, very slowly: in mid-December, according to court records, the judge on the case, Alvin K. Hellerstein, wrote that it had become “bogged down in untimely discovery proceedings and disputes.”
A unit on Rikers, March 2015. Photo via AP Images