Trouble at Rikers

A New York Times op-ed direct from the Times’ Editorial Board is calling into question the leadership at the (some may say) famous Rikers Island jail in New York City. The op-ed follows an article from the same publication over the weekend that the Department of Correction deliberately left out passages from a 2012 report recommending the demotion of two officials, warden William Clemons, and his deputy, Turhan Gumusdere, who, the Editorial Board says, failed to appropriately oversee the jail.

The op-ed succinctly states: “There is no reason to believe that Mr. Clemons and Mr. Gumusdere, who were recently promoted, can carry out their responsibilities.”

Later, the op-ed goes on:

The report, issued in August by the United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, depicted Rikers Island as a horrific place where teenagers routinely suffered injuries during sadistic beatings by correction officers who acted without fear of being reported or punished. The report said that “inmates are beaten as a form of punishment, sometimes in apparent retribution for some perceived disrespectful conduct,” adding, “correction officers improperly use injurious force in response to refusals to follow orders, verbal taunts, or insults, even when the inmate presents no threat to the safety or security of staff or other inmates.”

Joseph Ponte was named commissioner of the Department of Corrections last April, and the op-ed cites the Times article from Sept. 21 saying that Ponte had recently promoted Clemons and Gumusdere. It also says Ponte did not see the original report. Ponte was formerly the commissioner of Maine Department of Corrections, where inmates could not be held in solitary confinement for more than 72 hours without his approval, according to the Times. He is largely seen as a prison reformer.

Earlier in September, Ponte had hired consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to create reform plans for Rikers after allegations of brutality toward inmates were revealed.


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