Elected officials paid an unannounced visit to Rikers Island to check on the wellbeing of incarcerated individuals as well as staff members and doctors at the facility following worrying reports of in-custody deaths and injuries.
Assemblymember Kenny Burgos, Assembly Correction Committee Chair, David Weprin, Senate, Crime Victims, Crime & Correction Committee Chair Julia Salazar, Councilmember Tiffany Cabán and Councilmember Mercedes Narcisse were on hand Sept. 12 to speak to inmates and staff to keep officials accountable for concerns regarding safety and hygiene.
One concern was the inconsistency of safety precautions and hygiene throughout the facility’s many separate units.
“Obviously, we see 13 people dying on the island and we just cannot continue on this trend of people dying in a facility where over 80% of them have not been convicted,” said Assemblymember Burgos. “Speaking to officers and speaking to incarcerated individuals, there have been major improvements in terms of safety, cleanliness and medical attention but that is not the entire story. The problem here is that the story is one thing for one person and one for another. You go to one unit and they tell you ‘this unit is solid’. You start to go into the facilities that maybe the corrections staff doesn’t want you to visit for obvious reasons.”
These inconsistencies, the elected officials said, are making conditions in certain parts of the jail unsafe, unclean and unhealthy for both inmates and workers.
“At one point we made our way into GRVC [a location where some of the classified most dangerous individuals reside],” said Assemblymember Burgos. “Initially just walking down one path, we were heading down the hallway and on our right hand side was maybe 20 or 30 men pressed up on the gate screaming at us to come and visit their facility. They made complaints about mold in the showers, worms in the showers, flies, food being shoved under their cell doors – essentially they were being treated like animals. They complained that they were not getting haircuts and just basic medical care.”
This visit follows a report released by the NYC Board of Corrections (BOC) – an oversight body that monitors or regulates correctional facilities throughout the city – which analyzed four drug-related deaths and six suicides that occurred on the island.
This report found that lack of communication between officers as well as failure to provide incarcerated individuals with adequate mental health or physical healthcare were major contributors to the excessive deaths.
“Having equipment, medical equipment is necessary,” said Councilmember Narcisse. “You have folks that have mental health problems that we need to address. I had one gentleman who told me that he’d been here and gave his list of medications and yet he has not gotten any.”
The officials also remarked on the infrastructure of the building which was also apparently crumbling.
“You have peeling paint – probably lead paint – all over the place and the floors are not maintained, there are cracks in the floors all over especially in the medical unit,” said Assembly Correction Committee Chair Weprin. “Also there is water on the floor, I actually slipped on the floor and luckily I didn’t fall, I didn’t get hurt but I did fall. It needs to be fixed if individuals are still going to be housed at Rikers. These are intolerable conditions.”