Rikers Island sees first in-custody death of 2023 as prisoner dies in infirmary

A Rikers Island corrections officer
A Rikers Island juvenile detention facility officer walks down a hallway of the jail.
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File

A 65-year-old Rikers Island prisoner died while being cared for at an infirmary on Saturday morning, making him the first inmate to die in custody on the penal island this year.

Marvin Pines, 65, had been jailed since Aug. 3, 2022 after his arrest in Manhattan on criminal sale of a controlled substance.

He died on Feb. 4 at about 6:18 a.m. at Rikers’ North Infirmary Command. Moments earlier, the Daily News reported, Pines had been found unconscious in the shower area after having suffered an apparent seizure.

Pines’ body was transferred to the Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy to determine the exact cause of death. 

“Any death in custody is a tragedy,” City Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said in a statement Saturday. “We sincerely send our deepest condolences and sympathy to Mr. Pines’ family and loved ones. As with all deaths in custody, we are working with our partner agencies to conduct a full investigation.”

As noted, Pines was the first Rikers inmate to die in custody at the facility in 2023. Thirty-six people have died at the beleaguered facility since 2021, including a record-breaking 19 last year, as criminal justice advocates have repeatedly condemned inhumane and violent conditions on the island that endanger inmates and corrections officers alike.

In a January interview with amNewYork Metro, Molina said the Correction Department has worked to enhance the quality of life at Rikers in accordance with the federally-approved improvement plan. He observed that the DOC was having particular trouble ensuring that inmates meet their medical appointments, which has contributed to emergencies and deaths, because some inmates have resisted.

“They might be refusing because the experience of waiting for medical services is unpleasant,” Molina said in the interview. “They might refuse because it’s in conflict with a court date. They might refuse because their loved one is visiting that day. They might refuse because there is vocational training that they’re taking and they value that more than going to, you know, get their eyes checked for whatever reason to get glasses.”

But former Rikers inmate Darren Mack of the Freedom Agenda, a nonprofit working to have the jail shut down on or before its scheduled closure in 2026, charged that “Pines was killed by a criminal legal system that has no regard for human life – from police, to courts, to DOC.”

“At 65 years old, he was sent to a penal colony that is utterly failing to provide medical care or safety for anyone,” Mack said in a Feb. 4 statement. “Mayor Adams wants New Yorkers to look away from these tragedies by telling us that people held at Rikers are ‘bad people,’ but we know Mr. Pines was a human being, he should be alive, and our city failed him. Dozens of families are grieving the loss of their loved ones in the custody of this city, and the mayor is still encouraging judges and prosecutors to send more people to this death camp, instead of investing in solutions for real community safety.”

Pines’ death, along with all in-custody fatalities, will be investigated by both the city’s Department of Investigation and the state Attorney General’s office.