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Report: Mentally Ill Rikers Inmates Kept In Solitary At Alarming Rate

Partner With Teaching Hospital To Provide Intense Therapy Instead, Report Advises
Rikers Island aerial shot. (CBS Photo)

Rikers Island aerial shot. (CBS Photo)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A new report paints a grim picture of mentally ill prisoners kept in solitary confinement at Rikers Island, and advocates have expressed hope that it leads to action.

As WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported, when inmates break certain rules, they end up in the hole, or the bing – as it is known. Sometimes, they are in solitary confinement for years at a time, according to New York City Board of Correction – a watchdog panel overseeing the city Department of Correction.

And at Rikers, about half of those in solitary confinement at any moment are mentally ill, the report said.

“This is not a surprise,” said Sarah Kerr of the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project. “It’s a truth that has been with for a long time and what’s tragic is the New York City Department of Correction continues to resist doing something about it.”

The report said about 40 percent of the 12,200 inmates at Rikers have some kind of diagnosed mental illness, and about a third have serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

But the study’s lead author – New York University psychiatrist Dr. James Gilligan – said solitary confinement can cause symptoms of mental illness even in healthy people.

The report recommended rather than using solitary confinement as punishment for mentally ill inmates, Rikers should partner with a teaching hospital to provide intense therapeutic services.

The Department of Correction said reform efforts are under way in recommending against solitary.

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