The ninth Rikers Island inmate has died while locked up on the penal island custody this year, according to published reports.
Elijah Muhammed, 31, was found unconscious at around 9:45 p.m. on Sunday night inside the George R. Vierno Center on Rikers Island, the reports indicated. The nature of his death was not immediately disclosed. He’s the 10th system-wide custody death reported by the Corrections Department this year.
The death happened less than a week after Mayor Eric Adams visited Rikers Island in hopes of strengthening relationships between guards and those incarcerated.
The Department of Correction (DOC) confirmed Mr. Muhammed’s death, placing the time of death nearly one hour after being discovered at 10:30 p.m. DOC also states that the cause of death is under investigation pending the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“It is heartbreaking when someone dies while in custody. We treat every death with the utmost seriousness and understand that it is our mandate to keep every person entrusted to our care safe. A preliminary review of this incident required that we take immediate action against the staff involved, and an officer was terminated. We will also be referring this incident to the Department of Investigation immediately. Our hearts go out to the deceased’s family and friends,” DOC Commissioner Louis Molina said.
For years, criminal justice activists have called for the facility to be closed due to hazardous conditions, including the disproportionate ratio between correctional officers and those incarcerated. The #HALTsolitary campaign and Freedom Agenda have been at the forefront calling the facility a human rights violation and demanding decarceration.
“What DOC and the courts are failing to admit is that we are in a human rights emergency. The chronic staff absenteeism continues while DA’s and judges are unnecessarily sending people to a potential death sentence. New York City’s communities need accountability, decarceration, and ultimately closure of the jails,” Freedom Agenda Co-Director Darren Mack said in a statement.
Since 2021, a total of 26 people in New York City have died in jail custody.
Sunday’s death also comes just after the second holiest of holidays in the Islamic community, Eid al-Adha — the feast of sacrifice. The incarcerated individual who perished at the penal facility was said to be of Islamic faith, and for HALTsolitary activists this incident is “outrageous,” and even more shocking to have occurred on a holy holiday honoring sacrifice and obedience.
“It’s just really sad that DOC can’t keep people alive, but that’s been proven true again and again. This gentleman died in a cage on a holy day as a Muslim. Rikers is a death trap. We need to stop sending people to die there. It’s only July and we’ve already lost ten lives this year. We cannot answer violence in communities with pre-trial death sentences,” Anisah Sabur, #HALTsolitary Campaign organizer and survivor of Rikers Island said in a statement.