Things are getting heated between the Corrections Department and two City Council members over conditions on Rikers Island.
City Council Members Tiffany Cabán and Sandy Nurse arrived unannounced at the penal island on July 25 to inspect conditions between the rising death toll in city jails and a boiling heatwave. It is the rising temperatures that have the elected officials extremely concerned and are fearful could contribute to more deaths, especially for those who suffer from underlying health issues.
According to several reports, Dashawn Carter – one of 11 New Yorkers to die in DOC custody this year – missed nearly 100 clinic appointments at Rikers before dying in May. Cabán revealed that she intended the visit to also include Supervising Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project Veronica Vela but says Vela was denied entry by the Department of Corrections. Cabán indicated that she spoke with Commissioner Louis Molina who cited the refusal as a change in policy.
Cabán didn’t pull any punches when commenting on her visit to the prison, calling the island a “hellhole” and stating that it’s unacceptable to refuse an attorney’s entry.
“Rikers Island is a hellhole. I know. Not only have I represented hundreds upon hundreds of clients caged there, I represent it in the City Council. Neither incarcerated New Yorkers nor the jail’s staff are safe. Departmental leadership has stopped cooperating with the federal monitor and unaccountably refused to allow an expert attorney in today. The Adams Administration’s inability to improve the situation has even raised the possibility of federal receivership. It’s easy to see why: lack of cleaning supplies, lack of medical attention, constant overdoses and other health crises, New Yorker after New Yorkers languishing in Intake for day after day with no air conditioning in the middle of a severe heatwave, avoidable stabbings and other violent attacks, and generally a persistent wave of what in the outside world would be seen as an emergency taking a week or two to address inside the facility,” part of Cabán’s statement read.
But DOC didn’t take the attack lying down.
According to DOC, the claim that Rikers Island is not cooperating with the Federal Monitor is false, asserting they work on an Action Plan to improve jails every day. DOC also states that they must follow a strict Consolidated Laws regarding who is permitted inside the facility.
“When it comes to who is allowed to make unannounced visits to correctional facilities, we follow state law,” DOC told amNewYork Metro.
Cabán called for a complete halt to all forms of solitary confinement, to decarcerate and shutter Rikers Island completely and instead invest in the health and stability of communities, something many human rights activists have also supported. According to information obtained from the visit, Cabán visited restrictive housing at the George R. Vierno Center where those incarcerated were reportedly out of their cells at the time. Information from DOC contends that people are afforded 7 hours out of cell time and therefore does not currently employ solitary confinement.
Nurse also joined her fellow Council Member in denouncing the facility, and added that while this was her second impromptu visit, she says it is clear that basic health and medical needs of those incarcerated are not being met.
“On my second impromptu visit to Rikers this year, it’s clear that the basic health and medical needs of detainees are not being met. We continued to hear first-hand that Rikers is not meeting urgent issues like a broken arm, gashes from physical altercations, or putting individuals expressing suicidal ideations on suicide watch. In this excruciating heat wave, I was alarmed to see detainees in cells with no AC or fans in the Intake area, some reporting being like that for two weeks—wearing as little clothing as possible to avoid heat exhaustion,” Nurse said.
In response, DOC shared that they have already undergone a Summer Heat Plan that looks to concentrate on those most at-risk from heat-related health concerns. According to new statistics, DOC has installed 16 new housing areas prior to the summer heatwave while also regularly monitoring temperatures.