When They See Us: Where is Rikers Island? Is it dangerous?

When They See Us is the four-part miniseries about the Central Park Five case that everybody is talking about. One of the five teenagers, Korey Wise, was first sentenced to adult prison Riker’s Island in 1990 whereas Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Raymond Santana were sent to juvenile prison. This was because Wise was 16-years-old at the time he was interrogated by police and could be sentenced as an adult, whilst the others were aged between 14 and 16-years-old and tried as juveniles. As a result of his experiences in adult prison, Wise chose to spend most of his sentence in solitary confinement for protection.

Where is Rikers Island?

Rikers Island is an island situated on the East River, between the boroughs of Queens and the Bronx in New York City.

The Island is technically located in The Bronx, New York.

Rikers Island itself is home to the biggest jail in New York City and one of the world’s largest correctional and mental institutions.

The prison is operated by the New York City Department of Correction and has over 100,000 re-admissions per year.

Rikers Island is a complex, consisting of 10 jails in total.


Otis Bantum Correctional Centre (OBCC), Otis Bantum Correctional Centre (AMKC). George Motchan Detention Centre (GMDC) and George R Vierno Centre (GRVC) house adult male inmates and Eric M Taylor Centre (EMTC) houses adolescents aged 16-18.

Wise presumably spent some of his time in the Eric M Taylor Centre on Rikers Island as he was 16-years-old at the time.

The prison series to hold local offenders who are awaiting trial or who were not granted/could not afford bail.

Those found guilty of crimes and incarcerated on the island are usually serving short term sentences of one year or less.

Sometimes, criminals are sent there as they wait for a transfer to another prison facility.


Is Rikers Island dangerous?

Rikers Island is considered one of the most notorious prisons in the world and New York’s most famous prison.

In Mother Jones magazine in May 2013, Rikers Island was ranked as one of the 10 worst correctional facilities in the United States.

According to numerous reports and investigations, media coverage and prisoner accounts, Rikers Island is considered to be very dangerous.

For years, the prison has been subject to a number of investigations and rulings over a “culture of abuse.”

In 2009, The New York Times reported that: “The pattern of cases suggests that city correction officials have been aware of a problem in which Rikers guards have acquiesced or encouraged violence among inmates.”

Some of the abuse has been found to come from the prison guards themselves.

For example, in 2007, Captain Sherman Graham and Assistant Deputy Warden Gail Lewis were found guilty for covering up an assault of an inmate, which Graham carried out, receiving 500 hours of community service a $1,000.

Officer brutality is also depicted in episode four of When They See Us.


The fourth episode follows Wise’s experience of incarceration and shows brutal scenes of where he is beaten up – at one point so badly doctors tell prison guards it would be a miracle if he survived the attack.

In 2014, the Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, issued a report which condemned the systematic abuse and violation of prisoners constitutional rights at Rikers Island.

In a 79-page report, he particularly drew attention to the treatment of juvenile prisoners at Rikers and reported a “pattern and practice of conduct at Rikers that violates the constitutional rights of adolescent inmates.”

Bharara pointed at the excessive use of force by staff, a lack of protection, and unnecessary use of solitary confinement.

Approximately 85 per cent of those detained at Rikers Island has not been convicted of a crime, contributing to the huge problem of overcrowding.

The rest of the prison population are serving short prison sentences.

Overcrowding itself contributes to the dangers of Rikers Island, just like in any prison.

Cramped conditions can heighten tensions between prisoners and cause the relationships between guard and prisoner to deteriorate.

In 2017, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he intends to close Rikers Island within the next 10 years.

He promised to do if the crime rate in NYC continued to decline and is the prison population at Rikers decreased from 10,000 to 5,000.

When They See Us is streaming on Netflix  now

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