One thing New York City has in abundance is shameless union leaders who know what their members demand of them, and do it. Pat Lynch, PBA president, is a master. But corrections union prez, Norman Seabrook, is no piker either.
A RECENT investigation by the Department of Justice concluded that a culture of violence permeated the jails on Rikers Island in New York City, particularly the facilities housing adolescent detainees. The report came just a few weeks after this newspaper published its own investigation into violence against mentally ill patients at the jails.
These reports have led many in the public and city government to blame the correction officers at Rikers, and have generated calls for radical changes to the correction system.
Given that the beating of prisoners was done by corrections officers, it’s pretty hard to blame anyone else. Or is it?
There’s no denying that some correction officers have crossed the line and acted in a brutal fashion.
Can you hear it? That’s the very young, very cute, Donny Osmond belting out the hit song, One Bad Apple (don’t spoil the whole bunch, Norm). But now that the requisite caveat’s done, what else you got?
Nevertheless, blaming corrections officers for what is happing on Rikers Island is counterproductive, misleading and profoundly unfair.
Part of the furor over Rikers rests on a belief that correction officers are little more than hired brutes, poorly screened and barely trained. But that’s not true. They are dedicated law enforcement professionals doing an extremely difficult job. Nearly half the officers are women, and the majority of them are people of color. Many are second- and third-generation members of the department.
It’s an “extremely difficult job”? Okay, but I still don’t think “profoundly unfair” means what you think it does. After all, they do train you and pay you to do the job, right? And it’s not like they force you into slavery working at Rikers against your will. As opposed, I note, to some others who don’t really have a choice about living at Rikers, if you catch my drift.
After all this, they are asked to do an almost impossible job, on a daily basis. At any given time there is approximately one correction officer for every 50 inmates on Rikers Island. We don’t carry firearms in the jails, yet we are locked in with the most violent members of society. Many of these inmates, an increasing number of whom have diagnosed mental disorders, are skilled at manufacturing deadly weapons, which they regularly use on one another and on officers.
There we go, the heart of the matter. Prisons are filled with bad guys. If they were filled with monks devoted to obedience, corrections officers could easily cut the number of people they beat daily by half. See?
To be blunt, the fact that people are not regularly dying there is a testament to the professionalism of the officers.
So we should be thrilled that your corrections officers don’t kill more?
This op-ed was offered as an excuse by Seabrook, a tepid effort to spin the outrageous violence at the hands of screws. After all, the guys they’re killing are all criminals, “the most violent members of society,” so what’s the big deal about corrections officers beating them when there are no video cameras around?
But this is no excuse. It’s a confession. This is what a killer says when he’s gotten nailed for his first murder; “but I didn’t kill the other ones. Doesn’t that count for something?”
Seabrook points to the failure of “top echelon” management to address the myriad problems in Rikers, and there’s no question that there is plenty of blame to spread about. But the fact that management is ugly doesn’t make his corrections officers any less so.
Regardless of systemic failure, guards beating and killing pre-trial detainees and short-term prisoners isn’t the fault of mayors and commissioners, but violent psychopaths wearing corrections department uniforms. And their good buddies who are complicit in their beatings and killings.
Let’s get this straight, Norm. Nobody, not one human being, should ever be beaten or killed on the Rock. There is no excuse. There will never be an excuse. It’s a jail. It’s filled with people who are there for a reason, plus plenty who shouldn’t be there but for judges who can’t grasp that $500 bail to a homeless guy might as well be a million.
So no, Norm. the fact that people are not regularly dying there is not a testament to the professionalism of the officers. It’s complicity in murder.