On a “Surge” in Violence and Mental Illness at Rikers

I recently read a NY Times article about violence and mental illness at Rikers Island prison in New York City.

With shows like Oz, Prison Break, Law and Order, TV-jails are always portrayed as something very scary, very dangerous, with riots and stabbings and things like that. Orange is the New Black is not lacking in violence, but it does look cozier than the other TV-jails. Regardless, I always though the jails on TV were just that: for TV, and not reflective of actual jails. As I read my letters from Garry I always picture him being locked up on the death row portrayed in The Green Mile, but deep down I knew that wasn’t actually true.

The article discusses how some reports of abuse by prisoners are not taken seriously, especially in the case of the prisoner they are quoting, who they are quick to mention “takes medication for aggression and paranoia.” While mental illness is surely prevalent in jails, it should not be used as a cop-out to neglect reports of abuse.

It’s still an uncomfortable thought-should I feel bad about the living conditions of convicted criminals? What if they are murderers? Why should I care if a CO beats a murderer? Didn’t he do worse to his victim? Nonetheless, when I read about bad living conditions and abuse of power, I can’t help but lean toward the side of the prisoner. That makes me feel sick, I don’t think I should feel that way.

The article goes on to discuss how newly appointed mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the need for changes surrounding reported abuses in the Police Department, but has yet to speak on jails in particular.

The article is calling what is going on at Rikers as an “epidemic of violence,” but I have to wonder, is this really an epidemic, or has it been happening since jails became a thing? I doubt suddenly, in 2014, the COs decided it was time to start abusing the inmates, and inmates to start abusing each other.

The NY Times says the number of prisoners diagnosed with a mental illness has from from 20% to 40%-that’s double. At first, this was a really alarming statistic. However, according to the CDC, ADHD diagnoses are also increasing at an alarming rate. Not to say that mental illness and ADHD are the same, but it is very telling to where we are now as a society versus where older generations were. When my father was growing up, they never heard of ADHD. It wasn’t a thing people had, there was no medications or tests, it was just assumed that children had a ton of energy and needed to burn it off. Once ADHD became recognized and diagnosable, suddenly everyone had it.

Similarly, there was mental illness awareness years ago of course, but there was not as much publicity and advocacy as there is now, so it’s easier to claim mental illness for someone’s weird behavior than to accept that people are just different. This is not to say mental illness is not a thing, it obviously is. It’s just understandable that as more and more research, studies, and education is done on the many, many different kinds of mental illness, it is easy to find trends in those who 20 years ago would just be “different,” not crazy. I’m sure it’s easier to say inmates are mentally ill than admitting that the jail system isn’t working and is perhaps causing the inmates to become mentally ill.


In other news:

It took me like 2 months to send a 1/2 page letter to Garry. We are slowly running out of things to talk about, and I’m beginning to feel awkward making “small talk.” Does anyone have any good ideas for things to ask ¬†him or talk about?