Rikers Island wardens accused of using inmates as ‘enforcers’ to punish other prisoners

Bill de Blasio announced in 2017 that infamous jail would be closed within 10 years

Harriet Alexander
Tuesday 17 November 2020 22:21 GMT
The entrance to Rikers Island, New York City's main jail complex
The entrance to Rikers Island, New York City's main jail complex (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

An inmate at New York's infamous Rikers Island prison has claimed that wardens used other inmates as "enforcers" to mete out rough justice as part of a scheme dubbed "the world tour".

Jomonni Morris, 19, alleged in court documents that he was singled out by wardens when he got into an argument with one of their team. 

He was badly beaten up and left needing stitches, yet wardens mocked his injuries, circulating on their message board an image of him next to a Chucky doll from the horror film.

Mr Morris, charged with attempted murder over two shootings in 2018, was being held in the Davoren Complex part of the facility at the time.

Authorities suspect Mr Morris belongs to a subset of the Crips gang, an NYPD source told the New York Daily News. Officials say most of the violence in city jails is gang-related.

Following his dispute with the warden, he was put on what was nicknamed "the world tour" - a scheme whereby inmates would be moved into different areas of the prison, and other inmates working with the wardens would attack the newcomer.

The New York Daily News described it was a revived version of "the programme" - a similar scheme, in the same section of the jail, which was broken up by the Bronx district attorney in 2008. 

Two correction officers and seven inmates who took part in "the programme" were convicted over the fatal beating of 18-year-old Christopher Robinson in October 2008.

Mr Morris's problems escalated in February, when an inmate who should not have been in the same part of the jail as him broke his jaw, the law suit claims.  

"This assault was preventable, and officers had an opportunity to intervene but failed to do so because the assault was executed due to (Morris) being on ‘the world tour,’" the suit states.

A month later correction officers allowed other inmates into Mr Morris's cell, where they stole his belongings.

Mr Morris was then transferred to a different part of the prison - the George R. Vierno Center.  

In April he was “viciously beaten” by an inmate acting on orders of the correction officers, the suit states.  

The inmate slashed Mr Morris’s face, leaving him with a 13-centimetre gash that required 100 stitches, according to the suit.

The wardens then allegedly circulated photos of Morris on a private Facebook group, the New York Daily News reported, comparing his wound to the Chucky doll from the horror film Child’s Play.  

One former correction officer, Fitzgerald David, a vocal critic of department of correction leadership, commented on the post that Mr Morris's injuries were the result of inmate searches being reduced, owing to coronavirus precautions.

Mr David denied the existence of “the world tour” or “the program”, and said that “suit and tie types” have no understanding of the language used inside the jail.

“If anybody tells you correction officers transfer inmates, they are a mother f****** liar," Mr David said. “You can tell them I said they’re a mother f****** liar. Correction officers don’t make any rules.”

He had little sympathy for Mr Morris.

“He’s probably one of those mother f****** who was going around doing dirt to other inmates and he got what was coming to him," he said.

“They finally got to his a**. That’s what normally happens. You get inmates who can’t live in this house, can’t live in that house. Nine times out of 10 the Department transfers them, transfers them — but you can only run so far. You can only do so much dirt in corrections to other inmates."

The department of correction declined comment. The city law department said the suit will be reviewed.

Mr Morris's mother, Darlene Pound, worked at Rikers Island until her retirement in 2018 and said her son knew all about "the program" from her stories.

“I learned from my son he was put on ‘the world tour,' meaning inmates are being deputized by correction officers to control certain inmates," she told the paper.  

"Inmates are being moved from area to area to be preyed upon by these deputies. I found out from former colleagues that ‘the world tour’ is the new name for ‘the program’."

Ms Pound said she was worried that history was repeating itself.

"I feel the need to speak out to make sure that no one else’s child goes through this and ends up with his or her life being brutally taken like Christopher Robinson," she said.

In 2017 Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, announced a plan to close the notorious prison island within the next 10 years and move inmates to other jails across the city.

Mr Morris's lawyers, Katherine Smith and Michael LoGiudice, said that their client's case was not unusual.

"The city has a long-standing policy of allowing — and in fact, incentivizing — correction officers to take the law into their own hands," they said.

"When correction officers use other inmates like their own private gang to assault inmates on their behalf, they are perpetuating the cruelty and violence that plagues Rikers island.

"The cycle must be stopped."

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