By Kevin Deutsch and Sasha Gonzales
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State investigators are probing dozens of incidents of alleged abuse, neglect, and violence at New York City’s youth jails amid the coronavirus pandemic, including a riot that broke out Sunday involving ex-Horizon Juvenile Center prisoners, Bronx Justice News has learned.
The New York State Justice Center for the Protection of People With Special Needs is investigating 33 active abuse and neglect cases at Horizon, the controversial juvenile detention center located in Melrose, state officials said.
At Crossroads Juvenile Center in Brooklyn, at least 42 reported abuse and neglect claims are being actively investigated by the state, the officials said.
In the latest instance of serious violence at the Brooklyn facility, a group of teenage prisoners broke out of their cells Sunday, raided a janitorial closet, and grabbed mop brooms they then used to seriously beat several jail workers, officials with knowledge of the incident said.
The riot began after one prisoner used a hidden tool to open his cell door—then freed several other inmates.
The group stole the makeshift weapons and attacked several jail workers, who sustained painful but non life-threatening injuries, the officials said.
Sunday’s violence involved prisoners originally housed at Horizon, who were later transferred to Crossroads amid the deadly COVID-19 outbreak, officials said.
Since April 1, Horizon has been used to house all “symptomatic” teenage inmates in the city’s corrections system, as part of the de Blasio administration’s COVID-19 jail consolidation plan.
Most detainees without coronavirus symptoms, meanwhile, are being held at Crossroads. But numerous workers at the Brooklyn facility have also become infected, one of them fatally, the officials said, leading to a climate of distrust among the jail’s guards and more than 60 juvenile prisoners.
Both Horizon and Crossroads have a checkered history involving many instances of violence, and a recent Bronx Justice News investigation revealed findings of substantiated abuse and neglect at the latter facility.
Nearly 100 teens were moved from Rikers to Horizon on Oct. 1, 2018, setting off weeks of violence involving inmates and staffers. A video of teens and correction officers brawling went viral shortly after the transfer, triggering widespread criticism of the facility and calls from the correction officers’ union to close Horizon.
A court-appointed federal monitor, tasked with examining the city’s treatment of inmates, has issued regular reports highlighting violence at both city youth jails.
The facilities are jointly operated by the Administration of Children’s Services and Department of Correction.
The Justice Center’s reporting hotline remains operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the agency. Reports of allegations of abuse and neglect should continue to be made by calling 1-855-373-2122. A web form for reporting may also be used.