Most Violent Jail Inmates: “Hidden America” Inside Rikers Island [Part 1]

Diane Sawyer went inside the unit called punitive segregation, where inmates are locked up for up to 23 hours a day.

Rikers Island (/ˈraɪkərz/) is New York City’s main jail complex, as well as the name of the 413.17-acre (167.204 ha) island on which it sits, on the East River between Queens and the mainland Bronx, adjacent to the runways of LaGuardia Airport. Supposedly named after Abraham Rycken, the island is home to one of the world’s largest correctional institutions and mental institutions. The island itself is politically part of the Bronx, though it is included as part of Queens Community Board 1 and has a Queens ZIP code of 11370.

The jail complex, operated by the New York City Department of Correction, has a budget of $860 million a year, a staff of 9,000 officers and 1,500 civilians managing 100,000 admissions per year and an average daily population of 10,000 inmates. However, it has become notorious for abuse and neglect of prisoners in recent years, attracting increased media and judicial scrutiny that has resulted in numerous rulings against the New York City government. In May 2013, Rikers Island ranked as one of the ten worst prisons [sic] in the United States, based on reporting in Mother Jones magazine.

The island was originally under 100 acres (40 ha) in size, but has since grown over four times to more than 400 acres (160 ha). Much of the first stages of expansion was accomplished by convict labor hauling in ashes for landfill.