We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is Rikers Island Prison?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
America Explained is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At America Explained, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Rikers Island prison, colloquially called Rikers, is the main prison compound of New York City, located on Rikers Island between the burroughs of Queens and the Bronx. The island is located directly adjacent to Laguardia Airport. New York City bought Rikers Island from a Dutch family in 1884 for $180,000 United States dollars (USD), and it has served as a prison since that time. Rikers is operated by the New York City Department of Correction, has a permanent population of 12,780 as of 2000, and has an annual budget of $860 million USD. During the Civil War, Rikers Island served as a military training facility.

Rikers Island prison has ten different facilities. Otis Bantum Correctional Center, Anna M. Kross Center, George Motchan Detention Center, and George R. Vierno Center hold detained adult males. Eric M. Taylor Center holds sentenced male adolescents and adults, and Robert N. Davoren Complex houses mostly males between 16 and 18 years of age. Rose M. Singer Center houses sentenced adolescent and adult females. North Infirmary Command houses prisoners in need of medical attention, and West Facility houses inmates with contagious diseases. There is also a prison barge associated with the Rikers Island complex, the Vernon C. Bain Center, which holds 800 beds and houses medium to maximum security prisoners.

This prison can only be accessed by the unmarked Francis Buono Bridge in Queens. The complex, which has been called the world's largest penal colony, has schools, clinics, chapels, sports fields, gyms, grocery stores and various shops, a power plant, and a bus depot. The daily population can exceed 20,000. Rikers Island prison has housed many famous inmates, including musicians Lil Wayne, Sid Vicious, Tupac Shakur, Peter Steele, and football player Plaxico Burress. It used to house a drawing by artist Salvador Dali, drawn in apology because the artist could not attend a sheduled talk on art for the inmates, but the piece was stolen in 2003, and has not been recovered.

Rikers Island prison instituted special housing for homosexual, bisexual, and transgender inmates in the 1970s, but the unit was closed in 2005 to increase security. A special hearing is now required for prisoners requesting placement in this segregated housing. The plans of the New York City Department of Corrections regarding the segregated facility has been criticized, as it includes a 23-hours-a-day lockdown, identical to that used as a disciplinary measure.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Link to Sources
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a America Explained editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By anon313299 — On Jan 11, 2013

My son is in Rikers, awaiting extradition to Virginia. Which facility would he be held in?

By BigBossMan7 — On Jun 08, 2011

@Georgesplane: I happen to be a federal correctional officer. The federal agency that manages the federal prison system is the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and is a subsidiary of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Also, the federal prison system has both pre-trial detention centers (similar to the purpose that Riker's serves), as well as institutions for those serving out their federal sentences.

By anon151129 — On Feb 09, 2011

I'm doing a book report on Rikers High and i need to know if it's a state prison or a county prison.

By Comparables — On Nov 21, 2010

@ GeorgesPlane- There are a number of differences between federal and state level penitentiaries. The respective states department of corrections manages state penitentiaries, so they can range from nicer institutions in smaller states that focus on rehabilitation and prisons in more conservative states that focus on punishment. One commonality between state prisons and jails is they are overcrowded. Many of these prisons are privately operated, and they lobby state governments and donate millions of dollars annually to fill beds. This privatization of the prison system is often what causes controversy, especially when there are cases where judges are receiving marginally legal but highly unethical kickbacks and incentives.

Federal prisons are more focused on rehabilitation and have established national standards. Most who have served tie in both claim that federal prisons are better, but they do have their disadvantages. State sentences are more flexible than federal sentences. Federal sentences are usually standardized with a mandatory minimum with no possibility of parole until that minimum has been met. The controversy over these mandatory minimums is that they are historically biased towards minorities and underserved populations, although the Obama Administration has reversed some of that as of late.

By GlassAxe — On Nov 21, 2010

@ Georgesplane- Rykers Island prison is actually a county jail rather than a state or federal penitentiary. The Jail does hold prisoners who have been sentenced, but the main purpose of the prison is to hold inmates awaiting trial and serving shorter sentences.

This does not make Rykers any more of a pleasant place however. The Jail is home to numerous gangs, hardened criminals and habitual offenders. The prison is rife with stories of abuse from both prisoners and guards, even documented instances of guards beating inmates and hiring other inmates as his enforcers. The prison also closed its self-described "gay wing" a few years back because of concerns over abuse and lack of security for LGBT pretrial inmates. Remember that pretrial prisoners have not been proven guilty, so acts of inhumane treatment against these types of prisoners is particularly unsettling.

By Georgesplane — On Nov 21, 2010

Is Riker’s Island a state prison or a federal prison? What is the difference between a state prison and a federal prison? Which types of prisons treat prisoners worse and which types of prisons treat prisoners the best? What agency manages federal prisons?

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a America Explained editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
Learn more
America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.