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Report exposes culture of beatings at NY prison, mentally ill suffer more

NEW YORK--Mentally ill inmates suffer disproportionately from a culture of brutality at New York's most notorious prison where it is common for guards to beat prisoners, The New York Times reported Monday.

After a four-month investigation, the paper said 129 prisoners suffered “serious injuries” in altercations with guards over an 11-month period at Rikers Island, the second largest prison in the United States, last year.

The injuries, which required medical treatment outside the jail, included fractures, wounds requiring stitches and head injuries.

“The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island, and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence,” it said.

The Times described violence committed by guards against inmates as “pervasive and routine.”

In 77 percent of cases, inmates had been diagnosed with mentally illness, and in 80 percent of cases, inmates reported being beaten after they were handcuffed.

“The growing numbers of mentally unstable inmates, with issues like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, are a major factor in the violence,” wrote the newspaper.

The Times said the prison now has about as many with mental illnesses, roughly 4,000 out of 11,000 inmates, as all the psychiatric hospitals in New York State put together.

“They make up nearly 40 percent of the jail population, up from about 20 percent eight years ago,” the newspaper said.

Mentally ill inmates commit two-thirds of infractions in the jail and a vast majority of assaults on staff members, it said.

Officers used force on inmates 1,927 times in the first six months of 2014, an increase of more than a third compared with the same period last year.

Staff have little training in how to subdue the mentally ill, resorting to pepper spray, take-down holds and fists.

In many of the cases, the guards' responses seemed to grossly outweigh the perceived offense, the newspaper said.

It detailed a prisoner who was severely beaten by four guards after attempting to hang himself, and another who was beaten for holding his fiancee's hand after being told not to.

The paper also said two prisoners died: a mentally ill homeless veteran whose cell reached more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.7 degrees Celsius) and a schizophrenic who swallowed toxic detergent and begged for medical attention for hours.

Federal authorities indicted a correction officer on charges of violating the schizophrenic man's civil rights.

None of the officers involved in the 129 cases has been prosecuted so far, The New York Times reported.

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