"It was not a particularly violent crime that sent Michael Megginson to Rikers Island. He was arrested for stealing a cellphone.
In his 18 months there, he was constantly involved in some kind of disturbance, his records show. He fought with other inmates and officers; spit and threw urine at them; smashed windows and furniture and once stabbed an officer in the back of the head with a piece of glass.
At least twice, his bones were broken in beatings by guards.
He also repeatedly hurt himself, cutting his body all over, banging his head against walls and tying sheets and clothing around his neck in apparent suicide attempts.
There were times he became severely psychotic. He once stripped naked and broke the toilet in his cell, causing a flood. “I’m trying to save everybody from the devil with holy water,” he said, according to jail records.
For years, Rikers has been filling with people like Mr. Megginson, who have complicated psychiatric problems that are little understood and do not get resolved elsewhere: the unwashed man passed out in a public stairwell; the 16-year-old runaway; the drug addict; the belligerent panhandler screaming in a full subway car.
It is a problem that cuts two ways. At the jail, with its harsh conditions and violent culture, the mentally ill can deteriorate, their symptoms worsening in ways Rikers is unequipped to handle. As they get sicker, they strike out at guards and other correction employees, often provoking more violence."