11 Inmates Have Died While In Custody On Rikers Island Exposing The Jail's Horrible Conditions

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Rikers Island jail sign

Within the last three days, two people have died while in custody at Rikers Island jail in New York City, marking 11 deaths that have happened at Rikers this year.

Stephan Khadu died after being held at the Vernon C. Bain Center within the Rikers Island jail complex, which is also where the 11 other inmates who have died were held.

Khaud’s cause of death is still under investigation, but it appeared the inmate was suffering from a medical problem and was transported to Lincoln Hospital where he was pronounced dead on Wednesday.

Khadu’s death comes after Isaabdul Karim died in an infirmary on Rikers Island on Sunday. Although Karim’s death was considered to be of natural causes, the circumstances are still under investigation by the medical examiner.

“I am devastated to see that we have yet another death in custody, and determined to stop this heartbreaking trend,” commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are doing all we can to remedy the unprecedented crisis we are experiencing in our jails. My thoughts and prayers are with the individual's loved ones.”

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Although it was initially reported that 12 inmates had died in custody, the department of corrections clarified that one of the individuals, Cario Tomas, had been released by the court and therefore had not died within Rikers. 

Why are so many Rikers Island inmates dying?

The conditions at Rikers Island jail have been widely criticized by state and city leaders, lawyers, and public advocates for incarcerated people. There are almost no basic services for people who are detained there, and the complex has a history of enforcing brutal conditions.

At least 5 out of the 11 inmates who have died at Rikers Island this year died in suspected suicides. 

It’s even more astonishing because a good majority of people being held on Rikers have not been tried and are still presumed innocent.

Some of the inhumane conditions at the jail consist of detainees using a communal bag as a toilet and inmates housed in showers without the ability to sit or lie down. 

Some inmates have been denied access to meals, water, medication, phones, or transportation to courts.

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Even after leaving Rikers Island, formerly incarcerated people still suffer its effects. 

The most famous case that brought a lot of media attention was the story of Kalief Browder who was held at Rikers Island jail.

Browder's highly publicized case drew the attention of celebrities and helped spur calls for the abolition of the prison.

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Kalief Browder was only 16-years-old when he was picked up in 2010 for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder was jailed at Rikers Island for three years despite never being charged for the crime, and never going on trial.

The young man spent two years of his sentence in solitary confinement and suffered severe mental and physical trauma while being housed on Rikers.

The case was eventually dropped and Browder was released in 2013, but the damage he endured was too much for him to live with and in 2015 Browder committed sucide.

The Kalief Browder case spurred calls for changes to be made inside of Rikers Island, and for better conditions to be implemented for the inmates being held inside. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio has promised to finally visit the jail for the first time in over four years due to the heavy political pressure to fund a solution to the deteriorating conditions on Rikers.

There needs to be action taken against the dehumanization of inmates within Rikers. They are living in inhabitable conditions and absolutely no one deserves to be treated like an animal and not a human being.

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Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.