Inmate Livestreams From Rikers Island Cell

August 3rd 2016

Lucy Tiven

A Rikers Island prisoner's Facebook Live stream is forcing people to confront the disturbing reality of life behind bars.

inmate rikers

In the video, which was recently obtained and shared by local news outlet PIX11, a uniformed prisoner in his jail cell shows off a hand-made knife.

"Wanna see that chop?" he says. "It’s a fucking scalpel."

rikers scalpel stream

Recorded on a smuggled cell phone, the video was live-streamed on July 22nd and viewed over 7,000 times before it was taken down, according to the Verge.

In an anonymous follow-up interview after he was released, the inmate who created the video told PIX11 he shared the footage to expose the conditions and safety issues facing Rikers inmates and how they are treated at the prison.

rikers inmate

"The officers feel we have no say, no rights, no freedom of speech," he said.

A spokesperson for the New York Department of Corrections told Gizmodo that the former inmate who recorded the video has since been arrested for posting the footage and "is facing serious charges."

Though the video brings an element of immediacy to its message, violence at Rikers is nothing new.


An August 2014 report (PDF) released by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara described Rikers as "broken" and ripe with a “deep seated culture of violence,” ABC News reports. The report alleges that Rikers staff used physical violence to punish young inmates with "significant mental health impairments who have limited impulse control."

"We found that Rikers staff utilize physical force to punish adolescent inmates for real or perceived misconduct and as a form of retribution, in violation of the Department’s policy," it states.

As part of the June 2015 legal settlement of a class-action suit over abuse charges, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed to appoint a federal monitoring team, implement policy restricting guards' use of force, and install surveillance cameras at Rikers, the New York Times reports.

There have been recent signs of progress.

On Tuesday, the New York City Correction Department released a report that showed a significant dip in serious injuries sustained by inmates at the hands of corrections officers, according to the New York Times.


The Times reports:

"The department reported that in the first six months of 2016, there were 39 uses of force by correction officers resulting in serious inmate injuries, compared with 72 during the same period in 2015. Total inmate assaults on staff members dropped 20 percent, to 394 episodes from 494 during the first half of the year. Over all, the department said, episodes involving the use of force fell 2 percent, to 2,223 from 2,268, the first decrease since 2011."

In a June 2016 trial, five corrections officers involved in the 2012 beating of inmate Jahmal Lightfoot were convicted on all charges — "including the most serious count of first-degree attempted gang assault," the Times reported.

"Justice got served," Lightfoot said after the verdict was announced, according to the Times.

But there's still a long way to go.

“More work is needed to avoid resorting to unnecessary use of force in the jails,” Legal Aid Society lawyer Mary Lynne Werlwas, who represented the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, told the Times. “The Constitution prohibits gratuitous use of force, regardless of whether it results in an injury.”

ATTN: reached out to the New York Department of Corrections for comment and received the following statement from a spokesperson:

“Safety for staff and inmates is Commissioner Ponte’s top priority. This individual was arrested and is facing serious charges. This video is under investigation. The 43% jump in contraband finds at DOC this year demonstrates that Commissioner Ponte’s comprehensive reforms of our entrance procedures are working. As we have previously done, we are continuing to seek a change to state law in order to authorize the use of body scanners, which we already own. The scanners can detect scalpels and other small blades that evade detection by other machines. With more than 50 state-of-the-art x-ray machines, metal detectors and other detection devices, we look forward to further success in stemming the flow of dangerous items into our jails.”


You can watch the full video on the Verge and below.

[h/t the Verge]

Update 8/3: 9:35 p.m.: This story was updated to include a statement provided by a spokesperson from the New York Department of Corrections.