What It's Like to Visit Rikers Island

Even among prisons, it stands out in terms of long waits and security

By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 24, 2014 2:28 PM CDT

(Newser) – News that Rikers Island prison is investigating the alleged smuggling of drugs and weapons by guards prompts Dateline producer Dan Slepian to recount his first visit to the facility in the course of his work. Think every airport security or bank line you've ever been in, then multiply by a factor of 10 or so. "Visiting an inmate there is a lesson in both human behavior and the art of learning patience," writes Slepian at NBCNews.com. He has visited dozens of prisons to interview prisoners, but Rikers is in a category of its own, it seems.

First, you park in a lot by a bridge that connects Queens to Rikers and wait for the bus. That bus takes you to the first stop, the registration building, where the lines to get in are long even at 7am. After an ID check, you'll eventually pass through airport-like security and X-rays, get questioned, fill out some forms, then get shuttled to a waiting center near the housing units. After another long wait comes another shuttle ride to the actual detention facility, along with another round of metal-detectors and X-ray machines. Then comes another security check in a private vestibule where you have to lift your tongue and fold down your waistband to prove you're not bringing stuff in. Then it's another wait of about half an hour before the actual visit. Maintaining security at a prison as huge as Rikers—figure about 10,000 prisoners on any given day—is of course a time-consuming challenge. But here, "the concept of time takes on a whole new meaning," writes Slepian. Click for his full post.

This June 12 photo shows an aerial view of Riker's Island in front of the city skyline in New York.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
This photo taken on June 11 shows part of New York's Manhattan skyline forming a backdrop for the eastern section of Rikers Island jail complex.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
In this 2011 photo, inmate housing on New York's Rikers Island jail is seen.   (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)
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