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Inmate Abuse by Corrections Officers and the Legal Recourse Available

Contrary to popular belief, inmate abuse is not a thing of the past. Misconduct and excessive force against inmates still occur today in New York and throughout the country. Correctional facilities such as Rikers Island Prison have recently landed in the news for the egregious inmate abuse occurring within their walls.

Rikers Island Inmate Abuse

Lloyd Nicholson, a former corrections officer at the Rikers Island Prison Complex, was recently sentenced to six years in prison for a series of assaults that occurred while he worked as a guard. A jury found Nicholson guilty of orchestrating severe beatings of teenage inmates in an organized scheme he referred to as “The Program.”

Three other prison guards will soon stand trial for their roles as corrupt officials at the Robert N. Davoren Center, a complex within the Rikers Island facility. Michael McKie of Brooklyn and Khalid Nelson of Staten Island face each face up to 25 years in prison for enterprise corruption, a charge that falls within the category of organized crime. Denise Albright, of Manhattan, faces charges of assault and conspiracy for her alleged role in abusing prisoners.

Unfortunately, inmate abuse is a fact of life for many of New York’s 100,000 prisoners. The abuse comes in different forms and from different sources so it’s difficult for incarcerated persons to ever feel safe in their day-to-day lives.

Officer Abuse on Inmates

New York gives a lot of power to prison guards so that they may effectively maintain the prison system and keep inmates safe. Unfortunately, some correctional officers abuse this power and assault inmates. Inmate abuse occurs when prison officials use unnecessary and excessive force or commit sexual assault upon the prisoner.

  • Violent assault on inmates is the most common type of abuse committed by correctional officers. This is the needless beating, hitting, kicking or striking of a prisoner. The officer’s unnecessary or excessive use of a weapon upon a defenseless inmate is a typical example. These attacks can cause lacerations, broken bones, internal injuries, disfigurement, brain or spinal cord damage and even death.
  • Sexual assault from guards is more common in detention facilities than one would think. The National Inmate Survey reveals that 4.4 percent of prison and jail inmates report being sexually victimized in the past 12 months. Sexual abuse can occur verbally or through physical contact, although verbal sexual abuse is extremely difficult to prove and rarely leads to recovery of damages. Sexual abuse can also result in severe physical injury.

New York Prisons’ Duties and Liability

Those incarcerated in New York City correctional facilities such as Rikers are supposed to be protected by the City. Since inmates do not have the resources to protect themselves like free members of society, the City takes on the responsibility of safeguarding those who it holds as prisoners.

When corrections officers accept their posts in the City of New York Department of Corrections they are accepting responsibility to protect inmates, regardless of their like or dislike of particular prisoners; each inmate is to be treated equally and fairly. However, some prison guards develop a personal hatred of certain inmates and bully the person, often leading to the severe beating of a helpless prisoner.

Although inmates know that officer misconduct is unlawful, they tolerate the assault as a simple fact of prison life. However, prisoners do hold power in these situations – they can bring personal injury suits to protect their rights, obtain compensation for their injuries and punish the misbehaving guards.

When an inmate, or former inmate, brings a lawsuit against the City for prison guard abuse, the court will make the ultimate determination on whether the guard was acting unlawfully. In determining whether NYC is legally liable for inmate injuries, the court will base its decision upon the particular facts and circumstances involved in each case. Each situation is unique and depends largely on the evidence and arguments from each side. It is crucial for victims to seek an experienced legal advocate to give themselves a powerful voice.

When abused inmates wish to initiate a lawsuit against the City, there are multiple causes of actions that they may base their lawsuit upon. Some of these causes of action include:

  • Assault
  • Deprivation of civil rights
  • Negligence in ownership, operation, maintenance, supervision and security of the correctional facility.
  • Negligent hiring of personnel
  • Negligent retention of personnel

New York law has a time-sensitive process that inmates must follow to bring claims against the City. Inmates must file a notice of claim with the City within 90 days after the harm occurred, although in rare circumstances there can be valid excuses for a delay. Any procedural error or delay in filing the notice of claim or subsequent lawsuit may forfeit the victim’s right to recover.

Connecting With a Personal Injury Attorney

Abuse of power by corrections officers is unacceptable. If you or a family member suffered unlawful harm or treatment from a corrections officer, contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss possible legal claims. Bringing an inmate abuse claim is complicated, and the advocacy and assistance of an attorney experienced in handling inmate abuse cases is invaluable.

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