Though the exact date and time remained uncertain as of Sunday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to visit problem-plagued Rikers Island sometime this week.
The mayor made the promise on Friday during his weekly appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” Elected officials and criminal justice advocates who have railed against unsafe, inhumane conditions at the city correctional facility have not only urged de Blasio to take decisive action to correct the problems, but to travel there to see them for himself.
“Well, I’ll go to Rikers Island. I’ve said this repeatedly,” de Blasio told Lehrer on Sept. 24. “I think it’s time because we’ve been able to address a number of issues. And I want to see if these solutions are working or whatever other things we have to do.”
Two more inmates died on Rikers Island over the past week. Numerous elected officials have visited Rikers in recent weeks and reported deplorable conditions — from inmates being kept in filthy quarters, to lack of proper medical care, to outbursts of violence endangering inmates and corrections officers alike, to staff members failing to proper protocol in preventing suicides.
One of the visitors, state Attorney General Letitia James, indicated on Sept. 21 that her office would seek legal action to intervene.
On Sept. 24, eight New York Congress members — Ritchie Torres, Mondaire Jones, Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries, Jamaal Bowman, Carolyn Maloney, Adriano Espaillat and Gregory Meeks — wrote to President Joe Biden and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland urging that the federal government to take action to correct conditions on Rikers Island. The legislators also implored the Justice Department to launch a civil rights investigation.
That same day, Steve J. Martin, the federal monitor appointed to oversee conditions on Rikers Island, testified at a hearing that the island was in a “state of emergency” thanks to a lack of leadership among corrections staff.
Hundreds of corrections officers have called out sick, and last week, the city sued the Corrections Benevolent Officers Association, the union representing them, for allegedly orchestrating an illegal job action. Union leaders claim the city has done little to protect their members.
But as of Friday, de Blasio claimed that enough progress had been made on Rikers that it enabled him to make a trip out there. He hasn’t visited the correctional facility since his first term in office, in 2016.
“What I’ve spent a lot of time on all this the last week or two is fixing problems, one after another. There’s been an immense number of meetings and calls and work with the State to get these issues fixed,” de Blasio told Lehrer Friday. “You know, I understand why people say go visit. I understand very powerfully what the problems are and I’m trying to fix them right now. And that is more important to me than anything. But next week I’ll go visit.”