Located along the Eastern River between the Bronx and Queens, Rikers Island is home to one of the most violent prisons in the United States. Hosting an average of 10,000 inmates on a typical day, Rikers Island Prison usually holds detainees who have been remanded in custody or can’t make bail. Therefore, most of the inmates here stay for less than a year. In the past decade, Rikers Island Prison has hit the headlines for good and bad things, thus evoking public interest. Here’s a quick rundown of some unique facts about the correctional facility.

1. Rikers Island Inmates Saved Victims of a Plane Crash in 1957

In 1957, Northeast Airlines Flight 823 lost control mid-air due to bad weather and crashed into several trees at Rikers Island before bursting into flames. As the passengers were trying to escape the burning aircraft, inmates from Rikers Island prison came to the rescue. To applaud their excellent work, the sentences of the inmates who participated in the rescue were reduced significantly.

2. It Costs More Than $400,000 to Jail an Inmate at Rikers Island Prison for One Year

According to The Economist, it costs $438,000 to host an inmate on Rikers Island for one year. These costs, which were escalated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are perceived as a massive burden for taxpayers. New York City residents have often argued that since the jail frequently hosts inmates who are unable to raise bail, it makes more sense to release them than host them at such high budgets.

3. Inmates from Rikers Island Prison were Paid to Dig Mass Graves at Hart Island

For almost a century, the public cemetery at Hart Island has been managed by New York City. As such, the authorities have been recruiting prisoners at Rikers Island to dig up mass graves. Initially, the rates started at 50 cents an hour and increased to $1 per hour.

The last record of the pay rates, according to The Intercept, is $6 per hour. These mass graves have mostly been dug during pandemics such as the AIDS epidemic in the 90s and the Coronavirus in 2020.

4. Rikers Island Prison Once Had a Homosexual Housing Wing

From the 1970s to 2005, Rikers Island Prison had a homosexual housing wing. It was the first prison to ever install a separate wing for housing gay men and trans women. The purpose of this unit was to protect inmates who were being physically and verbally abused by others due to their sexual orientation.

Though slightly safer, the homosexual housing wing at Rikers Island didn’t have the best facilities. To be transferred to this special wing, inmates had to sign papers and be interrogated by a community. Unfortunately, some inmates faked being gay so that they could gain access to the gay housing wing. This didn’t stop the physical abuse of some inmates and led to its closure.

5. Kalief Browder Spent 3 Years at Rikers Island Prison without a Trial

Kalief Browder is one of the inmates at Rikers Island Prison who spent three years in jail without a trial. Upon his release, he collaborated with the legendary rapper Jay-Z to release a documentary that increased awareness of unfair justice systems in the US. Unfortunately, Kalief committed suicide on June 6, 2015.

6. Lil Wayne Worked as Suicide Watch on Rikers Island

During his time at Rikers Island Prison, Lil Wayne, a famous rapper and singer, was tasked with watching over suicidal inmates. He would patrol around the prison and report any suicide attempts to the guards. This was before he was sent to solitary confinement. The hip-hop artist spent eight months at Rikers Island.

7. A Man Spent 5 Months at Rikers Island Prison Not Knowing His Bail is Only $2

Aitabdel Salem, a 41-year-old Algerian, spent five months at Rikers Island prison when he perhaps shouldn’t have. He was arrested and charged with attacking a police officer during the theft of a coat from the Zara fashion shop.

According to reports, Salem thought his bail was $25,000, so he spent his time at Rikers Island because he couldn’t afford it. He later discovered that the bail was only $2 and blamed his attorney for not sharing this information. The inmate was released in April 2015.

8. Jada Smith Claimed Tupac Proposed to Her at Rikers Island Prison

In 2023, Jada Pinkett Smith revealed to the world that Tupac had proposed to her while she visited him at Rikers Island Prison. She claimed that the departed legendary rapper was looking for a support system and would divorce her immediately after he was released. However, Tupac only spent eight months at Rikers Island before being bailed out by Suge Knight.

9. Rikers Island Prison was Built on a Landfill and It Emits Methane

When Rikers Island was bought by New York City authorities in 1884, it was planned to be a workhouse before the plans shifted to making it a prison. Before construction started, the city began dumping street dirt on the island, converting it into a landfill.

This continued even after Rikers Island prison was opened, which led to its growth in size. As the waste in the landfill decomposes, it releases methane gas. The workers and inmates at Rikers Island have complained frequently about a strong chemical odor.

10. Rikers Island is Scheduled for Closure in 2026

Due to the deteriorating environment and increase in inmate expenditure, Rikers Island Prison may be closed in 2026. Mayor De Blasio and Speaker Johnson agreed to close this facility in two years and open four new jails, budgeted at $8.7 Billion. However, the entire project can be delayed for a year, depending on several factors.

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Last Update: July 3, 2024