Bronx DA who prosecutes Rikers cases says the island ‘is home of a criminal network’

NEW YORK — When Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark testified at the most recent Board of Correction meeting about violence on Rikers Island, she didn’t pull any punches.

“Rikers is home of a criminal network that has tentacles throughout the city,” Clark told a collection of elected officials and city administrators. “4 percent of the population,” Clark said of the prisoners awaiting trial there. “150 inmates who wreak havoc at Rikers.”

Clark said the assault on Correction Officer Jean Souffrant, who was jumped by six, 18 year old inmates in February, resulting in his spine getting cracked, “was the worst casualty in my memory.”

“All of us, all of us, need to come together!” she implored.

Souffrant, 38—who was only on the job 18 months--remains in a rehab facility.

The District Attorney acknowledged the problems on Rikers sometimes include correction officers who act as corrupt agents or brutalizers.

“In November, for example, we indicted a Correction Captain for beating an 18 year old inmate in a Rikers Island jail and four Correction Officers in aiding the captain for covering up,” Clark said.

She offered some startling information about how scalpels that can be sharpened into shivs get on Rikers.

“100 scalpels can be purchased online for $10,” Clark noted. “The market value for one scalpel on Rikers Island is $50 each!”

Clark said more than 50 percent of the contraband being smuggled onto Rikers Island is secreted in bodily cavities.

The scalpels “are wrapped in black, electrical tape and bypass the metal detector at the entrance to Rikers Island jail,” Clark observed. “We need scanners,” the District Attorney said. “We must install scanners on the island.”

At the hearing where Clark spoke, the Correction Commissioner, Cynthia Brann, also addressed the group. She noted staff working in jails endure more violence than any other job position in the country.

“For every 10,000 Correction Officers across the country, there were 254 workplace assaults and violent injuries. That is 36 times higher than the rate for all American workers,” Brann said.

Darcel Clark noted, “I cannot prosecute our way out of the violence and the dysfunction happening at Rikers Island jail.”

This week, PIX11 interviewed an inmate who was a victim of a jailhouse slashing that left a scar on his head and damage to his left arm and hand.

Michael Walcott, an alleged members of the Bloods’ Mac Balla faction, has been waiting four years for his trial. He told PIX11 the long wait in jail for a court date can contribute to violent outbursts.

“A case shouldn’t be getting built while people are sitting in jail, “ Walcott said in a follow-up phone call to PIX11 Friday. “The solution can’t be the punishment. The solution is to stop it from happening.

Talking about punitive segregation, or solitary, Walcott observed, “If you look at the ‘90’s and early 2000’s when the ‘box’ was open, it didn’t stop anything. Before, in the ‘90’s, it was far worse than it is now.”

Walcott, as a 20-year-old, spent time on Rikers Island.

Of life on the island, “If you’re just sitting here, your focus leaves from your case."

The Department of Correction sent statistics to PIX11’s Dan Mannarino this week, stating key safety gains in 2017.

It said stabbings and slashings, after increasing for several years, were down 15 % in 2017, the first time the rate was down since 2013.

Serious injuries from inmate fights were said to be down 24 %.

Total contraband finds in 2017 were reported up a whopping 75 %, with marijuana, pills, cell phones, and scalpels among the items seized.