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John H. Tucker wins July Sidney Award for exposé of Rikers Rape Crisis Published in New York Magazine

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John H. Tucker wins the July Sidney Award for his New York Magazine feature, “Rape at Rosies: When the bad guys at Rikers are the guards.” A story detailing abuse of power, violence, and an inadequate protection of inmates.

The story is set in the Rose M. Singer Center, an all-female jail on Rikers Island, an institution with one of the highest rates of rape in the country. About 50 of the 800 women housed at Rosie’s at any given time are being sexually exploited by staffers, according to an anonymous government survey.

Darcell Marshall was a 22-year-old inmate awaiting trial at Rosie’s when she was targeted for abuse by a guard named Benny Santiago. Initially, Santiago flirted with Marshall and gave her gifts and money in exchange for sex. Later, he hit her and penetrated her against her will.


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“I’d expected to meet a completely broken individual,” said Tucker, in a Backstory interview. “But Darcell, though clearly traumatized, revealed herself as charismatic, well-spoken, intelligent, honest and brave.”

Marshall successfully sued the city for allowing Santiago to victimize her. The lawsuit revealed how the jail’s lead investigator failed to preserve critical evidence against Santiago or investigate other serious allegations against him. Marshall’s suit became a catalyst for other Rikers inmates to launch similar actions.

“This story sheds light on a horrifying and little-discussed issue in the criminal justice system,” said Sidney judge Lindsay Beyerstein. “Jail officials know that staffers are routinely victimizing prisoners at Rikers and little is being done about it.”

Out of 307 allegations of sexual misconduct lodged in 2016 and 2017, only one has been resolved in favor of the complainant. Rikers is set to close down in 2027.

“If the stats continue their current trajectory, that would allow for over 1,500 more sexual misconduct allegations made by Rosie’s women — and that’s just the women who are brave enough to make a complaint,” said Tucker.


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John H. Tucker is a writer living in Brooklyn. For several years he covered criminal justice for the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, and the INDY Week in Raleigh-Durham.

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The Sidney Hillman Foundation honors excellence in journalism in service of the common good. Judges are Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jelani Cobb, Alix Freedman, Hendrik Hertzberg, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Harold Meyerson and Lindsay Beyerstein. TheSidney Awardis given monthly to an outstanding piece of journalism during the prior month.

 

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