Rikers Island, Harvey Weinstein’s new home, is a byword for prison brutality – The Guardian

Harvey Weinstein, feted for decades at Hollywood parties and galas, is set to become one of about 7,000 people held at the notorious Rikers Island jail in New York.

One of the largest correctional facilities in the world, Rikers has become a symbol of brutality in the largest US city. Investigations by reporters and government watchdogs have identified problems with how the jail treats the mentally ill, juveniles and anyone who falls sick.

Last year, Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman, was found dead in her cell two months after being sent to Rikers because she could not afford $500 in bail.

Most inmates at Rikers are awaiting trial and cannot afford bail. The population is mostly poor and black or Latino.

The most notorious case in recent history at the complex is the death of Kalief Browder, a teenager from the Bronx who was accused of stealing a backpack.

For three years, Browder was held at Rikers, waiting for a trial. He spent half that time in solitary confinement and was beaten by corrections officers. He attempted to kill himself multiple times before his case was dropped and he was released in 2013. He killed himself two years later, at 22.

A year after Browder was released, the Associated Press detailed how medical care at the jail, or the lack of it, had been cited as a factor in at least 15 deaths in five years.

Advocates have complained that Rikers is ill-equipped to handle people with mental illness, who in 2014 made up 40% of its population. In 2014 a homeless ex-marine essentially baked to death in a hot cell, a week after an arrest for trespassing.

Also in 2014, the US justice department found that facilities for juveniles at Rikers were extremely violent and unsafe. A DoJ report said teenage inmates were subject to rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force.

In October 2019, New York politicians voted to close the jail by 2026.

It is possible Weinstein could be held at Rikers until it closes, though a number of factors will affect the length of his stay.

Together, the two sex crimes of which the film producer was convicted carry a possible sentence of 29 years. Sentencing is scheduled for 11 March. But Weinstein also faces charges in Los Angeles. It is not clear how prosecutors there will proceed.

Weinstein was meant to go to Rikers, which sits in the East River between the Bronx and Queens, from the courtroom in lower Manhattan. But he was rerouted on Monday night to a prison ward at Bellevue hospital. His lead attorney, Donna Rotunno, told reporters he was sent there because of chest pains, palpitations and high blood pressure.

The judge said he would ask that Weinstein be held in Rikers infirmary, one of eight jails on the 400-acre complex.

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Rikers Island, Harvey Weinstein's new home, is a byword for prison brutality - The Guardian

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