Harrowing scenes at Rikers Island Prison, New York

  • Newly obtained images show harrowing scenes at New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison.
  • The photos show one prisoner left sitting in his own feces and another locked in a shower stall.
  • The images were shown to Manhattan prosecutors in a BOC presentation and obtained by Insider.

Harrowing images from New York City’s notorious Rikers Island prison show dire conditions, including prisoners being left in their feces, overdosed and locked in shower stalls.

The images, first released by The Gothamist and later obtained by Insider, were shown to a panel of over 200 Manhattan prosecutors in a Board of Correction presentation in August.

Incapacitated or overdosed prisoners being helped by other inmates

A graphic series of images shows a person in custody who, for lack of a toilet, defecates in his shorts and sits in his faeces. The man remained in his dirty clothes for 11 hours before receiving another pair of pants from another detainee, according to the presentation.

A prisoner sits in his own feces for 11 hours at Rikers Island Jail.

A prisoner sits in his own feces for 11 hours.

NYC Board of Corrections

Several images and videos show inmates attempting to get help for sick or unresponsive prisoners, with prison officials appearing not to be present or involved.

A series of images shows a group of inmates carrying an unresponsive inmate down the stairs and through corridors in the prison complex to get them help.

Prosecutors were also shown video of prisoners administering narcan to a person who appeared to have had an opioid overdose.

Prisoners carry an unresponsive person down the stairs to get help at Rikers Island Jail.

Prisoners carry an unresponsive person down the stairs for help.

NYC Board of Corrections

Five Mualimm-Ak, an activist and former Rikers inmate on the podium during the Board of Corrections’ presentation, told Insider that prosecutors appeared shocked by the pictures.

“It was just a big shock and questioning why that’s happening and the mechanics of where the officers were,” he said.

“That’s 200 ADAs [assistant district attorneys] who have never seen the inside of the prison. They’re sending people there now. I think the important part was showing them that you’re sending that person there.”

The prison complex is one of the largest and most expensive in the United States, according to NYC Open Data.

Prisoners carrying an unresponsive person to get help in the Rikers Island prison clinic.

Prisoners carrying an unresponsive person to get help at the clinic.

NYC Board of Corrections.

Justice Department Commissioner Louis Molina told The Gothamist: “These disturbing images represent points in time – not continuous states of affairs on Rikers Island. Our infrastructure and workforce challenges, the result of years of mismanagement and neglect, are no secret.”

He added that an “action plan” was being implemented to improve prison conditions. Molina’s office did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Rikers Island has been criticized for decades for the neglect and mismanagement of the prison of 5,900 inmates. Sixteen people died in custody that year, many from suicide or suspected drug overdoses.

Conditions in the prison continued to deteriorate during the COVID-19 pandemic, as thousands of prison officers stopped going to work and hundreds of inmates protested the conditions.

Reports of brutal beatings, sexual assaults on female officers and a growing opioid crisis have surfaced. Video leaked to the New York Times earlier this year showed a lawless “night of battle” among prisoners.

A prisoner was held in a shower stall for almost 24 hours

Another image shows a person standing in a decontamination shower stall designed to wash off chemical spray used to stop fighting between prisoners.

A prisoner in a decontamination shower stall at Rikers Island Prison.

A prisoner held in a decontamination shower stall at Rikers Island Jail for nearly 24 hours.

NYC Board of Corrections

Activists and ex-prisoners have claimed the prison uses the shower stalls for solitary confinement.

The person pictured in the shower stall was never sprayed with chemicals but was held in the stall for nearly 24 hours, according to the presentation.

The image below shows the person being transported on a stretcher due to self-harm.

A person being held in a decontamination shower stall has been removed after self-harming at Rikers Island prison.

A person being held in a decontamination shower stall has been removed after self-harming.

NYC Board of Corrections.

Poor conditions and ailing facilities

The annual cost of incarceration in New York rose to $556,539 per person per year — or $1,525 per day in 2021, according to the New York City Comptroller. However, despite the high spending, Rikers’ images show widespread decay and Decay of facilities including broken floors, ceilings and doors scorched by fire.

A “makeshift laundry” is also pictured, showing a room covered with garbage, food and clothes soaked in buckets.

A "makeshift laundry" Area in Rikers Island Prison.

A “makeshift laundry room”.

NYC Board of Corrections

The images also show spoiled food, including moldy bread and fruit.

Mualimm-Ak said he thought conditions at Rikers were “inhumane” and supported calls for the prison to be closed.

“The atrocities that are seen here represent only a small part of what is really going on,” he said.


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