Curbing Rikers Mayhem


Problems with mentally-ill homeless people loose on the streets have been very much in the news lately, including an attempted rape on the street in Union Square and an attempt by a man in the Port Authority Terminal to wrest a police officer’s gun from him.

But a place where the problem has rarely attracted much attention—Rikers Island—was again the venue for a potentially fatal attack Dec. 14, when a man being detained before being sent into the state system for a 25-year-to-life term for beheading his mother viciously attacked a Correction Officer.

The inmate, Bahsid McLean, broke the nose of CO Matthew Hines and slashed him above the left eye and on his forehead.

Unlike the great majority of inmates in the city jail system, who are either awaiting trial or have been sentenced to less than a year behind bars, Mr. McLean’s long-term future had already been determined. His psychosis was on full display in a video played at his trial in October in Bronx Supreme Court. On it, he told law-enforcement officials, “If you can kill somebody, you should be able to cut them up, too. If you don’t have the stomach to cut them up, then you’re a coward.”

Elias Husamudeen, the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, which represents CO Hines, issued a statement in response to the vicious assault that stated, “Instead of calling for shutting down Rikers Island, let’s call for making Rikers Island safer for Correction Officers and everyone else immediately. How can we succeed in keeping this city safe if the city fails to protect us?”

An inmate with Mr. McLean’s mental state is unlikely to be fazed by any additional penalty. For one thing, it would be hard to imagine any parole board letting him out given the horrific crime that landed him behind bars after spending much of his life in mental hospitals.

But he also stated on the video shown at his trial that prison would have no impact on him because he lived in a parallel universe inside his head in which he was a lawyer with a family, a dog and a nice house.

The Correction Department needs to take preventive steps so that when inmates like Mr. McLean step out of that peaceful fantasy world and pose deadly danger to anyone they encounter, they are not in a position to do grievous harm. Perhaps the problems that mentally ill persons with violent tendencies have recently presented on city streets will get both city and state officials looking harder at a more-successful approach for dealing with such persons than currently is in effect.