State Attorney General Letitia James is considering legal action over the deteriorating conditions on Rikers Island, the state’s top prosecutor said following a visit to the jail Tuesday, Sept. 21.
“For years, Rikers has been plagued by dysfunction, neglect, and violence, and it’s clear we’ve reached a breaking point,” James said in a statement. “These conditions have led to an unprecedented and devastating number of deaths, and action is desperately needed. I am examining all of my office’s legal options to immediately address this dire situation.”
James visited the city’s beleaguered incarceration complex with local district attorneys, including Bronx DA Darcel Clark, Melinda Katz of Queens, and Brooklyn’s Eric Gonzalez, along with state assemblymembers Brian Barnwell, Latoya Joyner, Al Taylor, and Clyde Vanel.
She said they were “deeply disturbed” by what they saw.
A spokesman for James declined to elaborate on her statement.
Detainee Isaabdul Karim, who was being held on a parole violation, died inside the jail Sunday, Sept. 19 — the 11th fatality on Rikers Island this year, coming just two weeks after the death in custody of Esias Johnson.
Advocates have urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to take immediate action on the ever-growing crisis, including protesters who took to Gracie Mansion Tuesday demanding hizzoner close the jail altogether.
One of the delegates, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez, is still sending some defendants to the chaotic jail, but his office is reviewing all cases to see if more can be safely released, reported Brooklyn Paper.
The jail has suffered severe staff shortages of correction officers and rising COVID-19 infections, which has led to inhumane conditions at the facility, according to reports.
Governor Kathy Hochul on Friday signed the so-called Less is More Act releasing nearly 200 people being held at the jail on technical violations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has targeted his efforts on cracking down on staff not showing up for work, threatening suspensions without pay.
The city also sued the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, alleging the union of orchestrating an illegal work stoppage, a claim its president called “meritless.”
Progressive New York Congressmembers Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Jerry Nadler, and Nydia Velazquez sent a letter to de Blasio and Hochul Thursday demanding they immediately shut down the complex and release all 6,000 detainees, most of whom are awaiting trial.
“We strongly believe that those who are detained at Rikers should be immediately released and the facility shut down,” the federal lawmakers wrote. “It has become evident that the conditions at Rikers… are deplorable, and nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.”
The pols said the city shouldn’t spend more money on hiring corrections officers and should instead use resources, including grants from Washington, for emergency medical personnel.
“We believe that the conditions of the facility represent a gross mismanagement of those federal funds,” their missive reads. “As such, we believe that expanding the facility and hiring corrections officers will exacerbate the issue; and redirecting funds towards emergency medical support staff would be a better use of funds.”