Inmates at Rikers Island claim the poor conditions at the prison fail to meet ‘mandatory, minimum standards for a human being’

New York City Department of Correction Emergency Service Unit officers stand guard outside Rikers Island as Dr. Victoria A Phillips, left, co-chair of the NYC Dept. of Correction Young Adult Task Force, demonstrates during a rally in support of the incarcerated people on a hunger strike to protest the conditions at the jail, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in New York.
Dr. Victoria A Phillips, left, co-chair of the NYC Dept. of Correction Young Adult Task Force, demonstrates during a rally to protest the conditions at the Rikers Island, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022, in New York. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
  • Inmates at Rikers Island left voicemails to an attorney claiming that they’ve initiated a hunger strike.
  • The inmates said they are striking to demand for more humane conditions at the jail complex.
  • “That’s all we ask for is just a little help,” one of the inmates said.

Inmates at Rikers Island said the notorious prison complex denied them their basic human rights, according to voicemails from two of the prisoners obtained by Insider.

Since January 7, more than 200 inmates have abstained from eating in protest of conditions at the complex, according to the inmates’ voicemails. The voicemails were shared with attorney Christopher Boyle who represents several of the inmates on hunger strike on January 10, and first obtained by local news outlet amNewYork Metro.

An inmate, who kept their identity anonymous, claimed that the facility does not act with urgency when inmates need medical attention, lacks heat, and has been withholding incoming mail from inmates. 

The unnamed inmate added that the facility has implemented a 24/7 lockdown period.

“We’ve been isolated about 15 days and counting, supposedly due to COVID protocols,” the inmate said. 

“The city is still open for business, but Riker’s Island is closed,” they continued, adding that some inmates have not been able to see visitors or lawyers. 

The inmate also claimed that court dates, bail hearings, and motion hearings are continuously put off, impeding their due process and keeping them in “limbo.”

Though inmates have said they were on a hunger strike, the New York Department of Correction said the strike ended.

“There is no hunger strike,” a DOC spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Insider on Thursday. “A group of detainees were refusing institutional food and instead eating commissary food.”

The spokesperson added: “The warden is engaged with them and addressing their concerns, and our employees have been working tirelessly to keep our facilities and all who work and live in them safe.”

However, the statement comes in stark contradiction of inmates’ claims received by Boyle, who said they were still sending him voicemails as late as Wednesday.

In one of the voicemails, Ervin Bowins, an inmate, said the hunger strikers “have a list of reasonable things we would like to bring to the table so that we can get things rolling.”

Bowins added that the current conditions do not meet the “mandatory, minimum standards for a human being.”

“That’s all we ask for is just a little help,” he said.

According to Boyle, Bowins, the only inmate who has been named, has since been moved to George R. Vierno Center — the same part of the complex where recent fight club videos have emerged.

The prison guards told Bowins he was being relocated because he was “too influential,” Boyle told Insider. 

Boyle added that if the hunger strike had actually ended, then it “wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense” to relocate “one of the guys that you think is the leader of the group.”