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Most Sexual Abuse Claims in New York Jails Not Investigated, Report Finds

HOST 1: This morning the city Board of Corrections held a meeting in downtown Manhattan. On the agenda, was a recent report on sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations at Rikers Island.

HOST 2: The report showed some alarming numbers. Juliette Jabkhiro reports. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

JABKHIRO 1: Victoria Phillips used to work at Rikers Island as a therapist. She says she witnessed disturbing things when she was there

PHILLIPS 1: There was actually officers who would tell women “If you don’t give me oral sex you won’t get sanitary napkins”

JABKHIRO 2: Now, Phillips is with the Jails Action Coalition. She says reporting assault is especially difficult in jail. But she says there is another problem

PHILLIPS 2: Even the brave people that came forward and reported their story, like in 2016, it was over 800 allegations of sexual assault on Rikers, and only a shrink, I can’t remember exactly I don’t have it on my head, but like only 60 of them actually got investigated

JABKHIRO 4: 84 cases actually, according to a new report from the Department of Corrections, or DOC. Last year, although more than a thousand cases of assault were reported, only 39 were fully investigated. That’s why Phillips and other activists are gathered this morning outside a Department of Health building in downtown Manhattan They’re protesting the on going problem.


Inside, Martha King is getting ready to speak on stage. She’s executive director of the Board of Corrections, which oversees the DOC. She says those numbers are concerning

KING 1: Without meaningful investigations, efforts of prevention and accountability will fall short

JABKHIRO 4: This meeting was a chance for the DOC to explain itself. Sarena Townsend, the DOC commissioner for Investigations and Trials, had to answer a lot of questions

TOWNSEND 1 : The Department takes very seriously every allegation.The open caseload is not due to a lack of investigation, or severely delayed investigation, rather a lack of time for the department investigators who are out doing those investigations in all of the department jails

JABKHIRO 5: And according to Townsend, the reason for the majority of cases still waiting to be closed, is a lack of staff. Which in turn, she says, is due to a lack of funding. Elizabeth Jeglic teaches sexual violence prevention at John Jay College. She says federal funding is available, and the DOC should be able to get it more quickly

JEGLIC: I mean grants usually take a bit of time to turn around, but two and a half years is excessive

JABKHIRO 6: And Victoria Phillips, the activist who came to attend the meeting, agrees

PHILLIPS 3: We’ve been hearing the same excuse for the last two and a half years. To still hear that excuse is unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable

JABKHIRO 7: The Board says it will work with the Department of Corrections to fix the problem by June

Juliette Jabkhiro, Columbia Radio News


The radio version of this story incorrectly identifies Rikers Island. It is a jail, not a prison. 


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