The United States has an ongoing human rights crisis. It has been going on for decades, especially since the 1970s. Almost no one talks about it. Almost no one even questions it. It is the nation's largest jail. It is Rikers Island.
I wish Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would draw more attention to Rikers. To it's credit, Amnesty has published reports about Rikers before. In 2000, they called out Rikers for the abuse of female prisoners at the hands of male guards. And in this latest round of reports about Rikers, Amnesty has shed light on the torture of teenagers and the high rate of solitary confinement of teen prisoners.
The most recent revelations about Rikers are shocking even for those familiar with how bad it has been over the last 40 years. There have been inmate deaths. Then there were the families who were not told that their relatives had been allowed to die on the city's watch. And then there was the incredible case of Kalief Browder, a high school student who was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack, and was held at Rikers in a cycle of torture, court appearances, and trial delays for three years.
The mayor has called for a task force. But either he is not serious, or is unable to change RIkers. Very few politicians care, and neither do many New Yorkers. They should. This is a true human rights catastrophe. Rikers is the not only the largest jail in the US, but in terms of human rights abuses, it is easily the worst. The abuse there is done in the names of New York's citizens, and fully funded by the citizens and tourists of this city. And when there is accountability - when prisoners are able to get legal representation and fight for their rights - the city pays in punitive damages, over and over.
The major roadblocks to reform are Albany (as always) and the Department of Corrections, which is a city agency, and touts itself as "New York's Boldest." Their tough guy union leader Norman Seabrook, has been unapologetic, has tried to block investigations of the facility, and has even demanded that his guards and officers receive a new contract with pay raises if they are to cooperate with implementing any reforms.
UPDATE, June 8, 2015: Kalief Browder, the boy who was held for 3 years without charges, committed suicide on June 6, 2015.