After seven days in solitary confinement, an inmate at Rikers Island was found in his cell naked and unresponsive, covered in his own excrement and with a rubber band tied tightly around his genitals, the Associated Press reports. Bradley Ballard, 39, died last September hours after medical officers removed him from his cell and transported him to Elmhurst Hospital. According to damning documents obtained by the AP:
He was locked in his cell alone for seven increasingly agitated days in which he was denied some of his medication, clogged his toilet so that it overflowed, stripped off his clothes and tied a rubber band tightly around his genitals.
During that period, guards passed Ballard's cell in the mental observation unit dozens of times, peering through the window in the steel door but never venturing inside — until it was too late.
The 39-year-old Ballard was eventually found naked and unresponsive on the floor, covered in feces, his genitals swollen and badly infected. He was rushed to a hospital but died hours later.
Ballard had a history of mental illness and had not been provided with his medication during his week in solitary, where he'd been confined after making lewd gestures at a female guard. His death, in 2012, occurred five months before another mentally ill Rikers prisoner "basically baked to death" in his overheated cell.
Dr. Bandy Lee, a Yale psychiatrist who co-authored a report on jail officials' use of solitary confinement, tells the AP, "Correctional institutions are such a poor substitute for mental hospitals, which is what they're basically functioning as in our society. The problem is the correction setting is not fit to deliver the proper care, and in fact many of the settings exacerbate their symptoms."
Rikers spokesman Robin Campbell tells us "an internal investigation of this incident is ongoing" and the Department of Correction is "adopting internal measures so that a similar tragedy will not happen again." Specifically:
In recent months, staff from the Department of Correction and mental health staff working for DOHMH have begun holding inter-agency debriefings on all crucial incidents, including inmate deaths. Staff from the two agencies have also implemented shift-by-shift briefings in all Mental Observation housing to ensure on-duty staff are current on any pertinent information about mentally ill inmates in their custody. We have also begun using log books to track inmates’ access of services over time—so that any changes in an individual’s behavior become readily apparent to staff on duty.
Campbell adds that Mayor de Blasio's new DoC Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, has also "made it a priority to ensure DOC staff serving in all specialized housing (and at all levels), including Mental Observation Units, are steadily assigned and that they receive appropriate training and tools."
Curtis Griffin, Ballard's stepfather, told the AP, "They know that they were wrong in the way they handled the situation."