Lil Wayne’s Home For The Next Year: A Look At Rikers Island

We take a look at the history, population and living conditions of New York's infamous prison.

[artist id="510062"]Lil Wayne[/artist]‘s world is filled with recording studios, frequent touring trips across the country and all the rewards his lyrical prowess provides him. But on Rikers Island, the skillful MC will just be the next in a long line of inmates at the notorious prison facility. The jail is among the biggest in the U.S. and has housed some of the most notorious criminals ever, from the “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz to drug kingpin Larry Davis.

Founded in 1884, Rikers Island — located off the southern edge of the Bronx, but accessible via Queens — was purchased by the City of New York for $180,000 from the Ryker Family, descendants of Abraham Rycken, a Dutch settler who migrated to the Big Apple in the 1600s.

Over a century later, the facility has expanded in size from its original landscape of 87 acres to to its current incarnation that spans over 400 acres and houses 10 separate jails, two of which are floating jails. In total, upwards of 17,000 inmates can be housed across the separate facilities. According to a 2003 Columbia Graduate School of Journalism project, the Rikers population alone is larger than the entire prison population of 35 states.

In the 1980s, during the crack epidemic, Rikers Island gained its reputation for violence that’s stuck with the prison ever since. A 1987 article published in the New York Times described the New York City jails as a “system in turmoil.”

Overpopulation, mismanaged discharges and lax security efforts contributed to the chaotic atmosphere surrounding Rikers Island. Cases were being processed faster than administrators could place inmates; the facility also doubled as a holding pattern for prisoners awaiting processing. The capacity of the jails on Rikers Island swelled and
population control proved to be increasingly difficult, leading to protests by prisoners. In 1986, inmates finally lashed out at the conditions and rioted for four
days.

A year later, in 1987, contraband was often found on prisoners; three inmates appeared in a Brooklyn courtroom after being transported from Rikers and injured 11 court officers while wielding razor blades as weapons. An editorial written by the Times in 1988 called for serious measures to be enacted to curb overpopulation and reduce the ongoing violence at the facility — during a three-month span leading up to the opinion piece officers confiscated over 345 contraband materials by inmates.

“Even with population control at intake and at release, Rikers Island will remain a small city under siege until these and other sensible measures are put into place,” the Times concluded.

More prison facilities were erected in upstate New York, thus beginning more shipments of city residents to facilities like Oneida.

Beginning in the the 1990s and coinciding with Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s rise as a public official, with his emphasis on quality of life issues and the White House’s war on drugs efforts, violence in New York decreased dramatically. The result was less offenders going through the legal system and the prison populations, which regularly peaked at 110% capacity in the late ’80s, subsiding. And although artists like Shyne and Tupac Shakur have passed through Rikers Island, they both served out the majority of their time upstate at the Clinton Correction Facility.

Wayne is expected to serve out his full sentence at Rikers Island .