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By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Federal prosecutors sued New York City on Thursday over its handling of violence against young inmates held on Rikers Island.

The lawsuit, filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in the Southern District of New York, seeks to speed reforms to the jail complex following a Justice Department report released in August that found “Rikers is a dangerous place for adolescents” where a “pervasive climate of fear exists.”

In the lawsuit, Bharara and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said young inmates were being “subjected to unconstitutional conditions and confinement.”

In the 79-page August report, Bharara said there were 1,050 cases of young prisoners injured in the past two years. In almost half of such incidents in the past year, the inmates required emergency care, according to the report. Shortly after the release of the report, Holder said his department would work closely with New York City officials to make improvements to the jail.

Allegations of abuse at Rikers Island — New York City’s main jail complex, which houses juveniles, men and women in separate wards — go back at least two decades, when an officer, according to the August report, created an enforcement gang of teenage prisoners called “the Program” and let them beat fellow teenage inmates in order to help control the inmate population.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio toured Rikers Island this week and announced the city would end solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds by the end of the year.

“By ending the use of punitive segregation for adolescents, we are shifting away from a jail system that punishes its youngest inmates, to one that is focused on rehabilitation with the goal of helping put these young New Yorkers on the path to better outcomes,” de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

Photo: Tim Rodenberg via Flickr

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