Elected officials inspected the conditions at Rikers Island on Sept. 13 following yet another death in the jail — and they said what they found shook them to the core.
The visit came days after Esias Johnson, a 24-year-old awaiting trial, became the 10th individual to perish within the controversial penal facility this year when he was discovered unresponsive on Sept. 7. A coalition of politicians toured the prison on Monday in hopes of pinpointing the issue at hand.
Gathering at the intersection of 19th Avenue and Hazen Street after their visit, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, state Senators Jessica Ramos and Alessandra Biaggi, and many more, stood in shock and disgust after visiting the complex. They professed seeing urine and fecal matter strewn over the floor; individuals coughing up blood and even an attempted suicide.
Some of the speakers said Rikers Island had become a humanitarian crisis.
“I can’t begin to tell you the deplorable conditions that we saw inside OBCC. In one of the intake rooms there are at least one dozen men per cell. The conditions are so extreme that Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and I witnessed somebody attempting to commit suicide just a little while ago. These men are desperate for simple medical attention as just measuring their sugar. They need their fingers pricked to figure out whether their diabetes is under control or not, never mind they are not obviously receiving any insulin. Those that need to access the methadone clinic have not been able to do so,” Ramos said, describing the unsanitary conditions.
“It’s all because the incarcerated men and women who are on that island are being treated unfairly, and the correction officers are working under very deplorable conditions themselves,” Ramos added, stating that everyone on Rikers Island should be kept safe.
González-Rojas was visibly shaken, enraged and emotional at the sight of disregard for human life. She held up a list of names and phone numbers belonging to the mothers, partners, and loved ones of those who are incarcerated on Rikers Island that she was asked to call — simply to inform families that those on the inside are still alive.
The Assembly member implored for Governor Kathy Hochul to immediately sign the Less Is More Act, a parole reform bill that would restrict incarceration for non-criminal technical paroles and require hearings to be held within a specified timeframe.
“People are stuck inside for days, for weeks, for months without a court hearing, without even being able to get transport to court, without medical care. I met a transgender person who is locked away in a unit with male colleagues. She deserves dignity. I also talked to another person who is HIV positive, who is not getting their medication. This is another death on our hands. I just witnessed an attempted suicide. ‘Miss come here,’ he jumped up there and tried to hang themselves. Me and Senator Ramos were right there. Nobody deserves this. These are human beings,” Assemblymember González-Rojas said.
In response to these claims regarding the conditions within Rikers Island, DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi has launched #NewDayDOC to target initiatives that will help increase staffing and safety through scheduling changes, new recruitment, and establishing a new process for calling out sick with Mt. Sinai so that they may return to active duty quickly, as well as other changes.
“I want to thank the elected officials for their visit, and we share their commitment to improving conditions. We have been very clear about the many challenges we have been facing for months, as well as everything we are doing to address the underlying conditions, and it is a good thing that the elected officials who visited today now have a first-hand picture. That can only help our efforts,” DOC Commissioner Schiraldi said in a statement to amNewYork Metro.
Halfway through the press conference, hecklers led by Benny Boscio Jr., the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA), bombarded the discussion with shouts and jeers stating that elected officials should concentrate on the working conditions for correctional officers rather than incarcerated individuals.
The arguments became heated as NYPD officers attempted to separate both groups. However, amidst the raised voices the two groups found common ground in the denouncement of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who they say allowed the facility to deteriorate placing both the staff and incarnated at risk.
Standing together, Williams and Boscio Jr. called for immediate change before another violent incident occurs.
“As soon as I got there, I called the governor, and I called the mayor because everybody in Rikers Island behind the bars or those who are in front of the bars are in danger right now. I want to be clear about that. There are Black and Brown people and women, who are a part of COBA, there are Black and Brown people who are primarily housed there. They are all in danger,” Williams said.