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4 Jun, 2019 18:17

With Manafort reportedly en route to Rikers, even his enemies call for ‘hell hole’ jail reform

With Manafort reportedly en route to Rikers, even his enemies call for ‘hell hole’ jail reform

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is reportedly being transferred to New York’s Rikers Island jail. While the news excited some anti-Trump commenters, it also reignited debate over the notorious jail’s violent history.

Currently awaiting trial for state fraud charges, the 70-year-old Manafort could be moved to Rikers Island this week, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources. The Times said that Manafort would be most likely held in solitary confinement there, for his own protection.

Sitting in the East River near the runways of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, Rikers island houses an average daily population of 10,000 inmates. Throughout the years, the jail has housed a rogue’s gallery of notable inmates, including ‘Son of Sam’ serial killer David Berkowitz, John Lennon’s assassin Mark Chapman and rapper Tupac Shakur.

On Twitter, some anti-Trump voices were excited by the news, which has still not been confirmed. “Riker’s Island sounds too nice for Treasonous Manafort,” one wrote.  

Conservatives decried the move, calling it politically motivated and evidence of an anti-Trump bias in the justice system. For some critics, the move to Rikers was nothing to celebrate, given the jail’s troubled history.

Black Lives Matter and other advocacy groups have been calling for years for the jail to be shut down. The suicide of Kalief Browder in 2015, who killed himself after three years in Rikers - three years allegedly punctuated by regular beatings and abuse – galvanized black activists in opposition to the jail, and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced plans to shut the island for good in 2017.

Manafort found an unlikely defender in Shaun King, an activist connected with the Black Lives Matter movement, and vicious critic of President Trump and his inner circle.

“We must be so principled in our calls for reform that we want them even for our enemies,” King tweeted. “Riker’s is still a hell hole that nobody should have to go to. Even Paul Manafort.”

Rikers Island featured on Mother Jones’ 2013 ‘America’s 10 Worst Prisons’ investigative series, and was described as having a “deeply entrenched” culture of violence among guards. Two years after the report, in 2015, there were 9,424 assaults reported in the jail, a five-year high.

More recently, a guard at the jail claimed in a lawsuit this week that her supervising officer had sexually assaulted her in the locker rooms at the complex, then stood by doing nothing as an inmate “menaced” her. In December, an inmate claimed she was stripped, handcuffed to a toilet, and raped by correctional officers.

For now, the facility remains open, though new stories of violence and abuse surface almost weekly.

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