At the beginning of March, New York City’s Board of Correction released a preliminary report on Rikers Island’s controversial new isolation facility, the Enhanced Supervision Housing Unit (ESHU). The $14.8 million ESHU was proposed to house 250 of Rikers’ so-called “most dangerous” inmates– a small minority of the prison population that officials claim is responsible for the majority of inmate violence.
Amid federal, state and municipal investigations and a seemingly endless stream of lawsuits alleging horrendous civil rights violations, city officials vowed to change the abusive and dysfunctional culture of the Department of Correction.
The opening of the ESHU at the beginning of this year is one of the first and only of the proposed reforms to have been implemented so far.
Meet the ESHU
Like the rest of Rikers Island, the overwhelming majority of people confined to the ESHU are young black males: the report says that 72% are African American and the average inmate is in his mid-20’s.
28% of ESH inmates came directly from punitive segregation and 6% came from long-term isolation units known as Restrictive Housing Units (RHU).
ESH inmates averaged 129 days in punitive segregation in the past year. The Board notes that “with the recent punitive segregation restrictions of no more than 30 consecutive days or 60 days within any six month period, inmates who have maxed out their time in punitive segregation (which includes RHU) may be transferred to ESH.” They promise to closely watch the flow of inmates from punitive segregation to the ESHU.