Location: New York
Notable Residents: David Berkowitz, Mark David Chapman, Lil Wayne, 2Pac, Sid Vicious, Plaxico Burress, Foxy Brown
Amenities: A special LGBT unit to protect prisoners from violence
Resting on over 400 acres in the East River, Rikers Island is the primary jail in New York City. Though it's nestled between Queens and the Bronx, right along the runways of LaGuardia Airport, and has a Queens zip code, it's considered part of the Bronx. Managed by the New York City Department of Corrections, Rikers Island boasts an annual budget of $860 million and has a staff of 7,000 officers and 1,500 civilians assigned to handle the inmate population. That much money and man-power are necessary when you're dealing with roughly 14,000 inmates. The complex consists of 10 jails, and the daily population, including staff, can exceed 20,000—it is its own little borough.
Inmates at Rikers tend to separate themselves by race to avoid riots, and gangs such as the Latin Kings, Bloods, Crips, and Trinitarios flourish within the complex. For a time Rikers housed a special LGBT unit, referred to as "Gay Housing." Created in the 1970s out of concern over pretrial abuse of LGBT prisoners, the segregated unit was closed in 2005 because security had improved sufficiently.
Unfortunately, Rikers Island has received much time in the news over the years for brutal cases of violence. During the '90s, beatings, stabbings, and murders were common; prisoners joked that they felt safer on the streets. Stricter policies have been enforced over the years, but they have not stopped the violence. 18-year-old Christopher Robinson was beaten to death in 2008, exposing an underground system known as "The Program," where teenage inmates were used as enforcers by guards. Fights were organized through the guards to control order, and teens were bribed with privileges such as cell phones, food, and television.