The Legal Aid Society says a secret lounge built on Rikers Island by the Department of Correction amounts to a “gross mismanagement of funds and supervision.”
A Daily News report Monday publicized a memo from 2021 documenting the illicit activities. The city Department of Investigation report, obtained by the outlet through a Freedom of Information request, documented a furnished lounge and a concealed supply room stocked with unused snowblowers, air conditioners and other supplies in a part of the jail that was vacated and barred from use in 2015.
The city investigators reportedly made a set of recommendations to DOC to address the problems in 2021 after discovering the concealed rooms but it’s unclear if the corrections agency followed them or if anyone was held accountable for the violations.
Mary Lynne Werlwas, director of the prisoners’ rights project at The Legal Aid Society, called the news an “astounding” sign of the “lawlessness” that pervades the jail complex and pointedly raised concerns that no one was held accountable after the city became aware of the corruption.
“The construction of a rogue bunker from stolen equipment in the heart of Rikers Island is a declaration of war on authority – and the perpetrators got away with it,” Werlwas said in a statement. “While incarcerated people suffer in heat emergencies in non-air conditioned cells, facilities are crumbling from lack of repair, and programming is cut for budget reasons, staff were hiding taxpayer funded supplies behind hidden walls.”
A DOC spokesperson, Frank Dwyer, said the agency had made changes to facilities management branch since the 2021 investigation.
“The department has installed new leadership for facilities management and restructured the division to ensure accurate tracking and inventory of all equipment for facilities,” Dwyer told amNewYork Metro.
The city’s internal memo found that city workers on the facility had secretly used DOC resources and materials to install carpeting, leather couches, water and electrical lines and a giant TV screen in the hidden lounge. In other parts of the James A. Thomas Center — a building that was abandoned after it was found to contain asbestos and other safety hazards — investigators found hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused, taxpayer-funded Corrections equipment.
The stashed items included dozens of snowblowers, air conditioners still in boxes and hundreds of unused lockers. Much of the equipment was concealed behind a false wall.
Items appeared to have been sitting there unused for years.