The most recent inmate death on Rikers Island spurred renewed outrage from criminal justice advocates — and renewed promises from Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday that the city’s working to improve conditions on the penal island.
During his Sept. 20 briefing at City Hall, the mayor comments on the major steps forward in reforming the crisis-ridden city jail. He also praised Governor Kathy Hochul for signing the “Less is More” bill, which immediately released 191 eligible inmates from Rikers Island and will free a number of inmates with parole violations in March.
“A lot of us have been calling on the state of New York to do the Less is More legislation,” de Blasio said. “We thank her for that. That’s allowing us to immediately move a number of individuals out of Rikers.”
After a man on the island with a parole violation was confirmed dead, de Blasio told reporters that the inmate was not to be released under Hochul’s plan.
The man is said to have died of natural causes, but a full investigation is needed. “We want to know what happened here and why,” de Blasio said.
In the coming days, the mayor said he plans to do even more to clean up Rikers. So far, he has ordered punishments for correctional officers absent from work.
“There is a very aggressive effort in place to ensure that we turn around the situation in Rikers intensely fast,” he said.
In October, he will be ending triple shifts for the officers by adding additional officers to the site.
Still, the mayor called out more from the state going forward.
“There’s a number of people that have been sentenced to state sentences, they need to be moved quickly to the state,” he said.
He also said that one of the fundamental problems is the justice system not functioning at its full capacity. There is a backlog of cases keeping charged New Yorkers in Rikers jail for an extended period of time before trial—Some which legislators said were standing in tiny cells.
“We need to see 500 cases calendared immediately to help move the process of resolving these cases,” de Blasio said.
“If someone is able to go free, that’s the determination. If I need to go to state prison, then that needs to happen.”
Mayor de Blasio has been pushing to cut the backlog for some time, and successfully moved shooting cases forward in that process this year. Many court processes were put on hold starting last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jury trials were only resumed in March of 2021.
The court’s Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts is currently working to innovate the system and move forward in new ways as the sting of the pandemic lessens. In April, they released a report aiming to streamline the court process by incorporating more forms of technology, like artificial intelligence.