In New York, few are unaware of the reputation of Rikers Island for violence and abysmal conditions, but recently conditions inside the prison seem to have gotten out of control. Ten detainees have died there this year, at least five by taking their own lives. And yet, the majority of those who are held there have not yet even been tried for any crime.
COVID Meets Criminal Detention
Unfortunately, the confluence of Rikers’ already violent and dysfunctional nature and COVID-19, which has already infected over 2,000 Department of Correction employees, has led to an unsustainable shortage of staff and a degradation of conditions. But even before then, large numbers of staff were not reporting to work at the same time that the population at Rikers continued to grow.
Whereas COVID has been blamed for shortages in staffing, others, such as Vincent Schiraldi, the commissioner of the Department of Correction, cited many correctional officers’ usage of COVID as an “unlimited vacation pool.”
Earlier this month, Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains’ Association, reported that on one Sunday alone, 33 posts across the facility remained unmanned while 22 COs were pulling triple shifts.
In the meantime, due to these staff shortages, the most rudimentary functions within Rikers have slowed to a crawl. Recent cellphone TikTok videos out of the facility have circulated depicting inmates assaulting each other, overdosing, and partying, all without the apparent intervention of any correctional officers.
It has become commonplace for detainees to remain unsupervised for hours on end. Drugs make their way easily into the facility because there are simply not enough COs to perform searches.
What Came First, the Dysfunctional Conditions or the Staff Shortages?
This week, investigators for the Department of Correction delivered suspension notices to approximately 20 officers. These came after mayor Bill De Blasio said officers in violation of sick leave could expect to see 30-day suspensions without pay.
But the De Blasio administration and the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association have bucked heads over the issues. Benny Boscio, Jr., COBA president, has placed blame directly on De Blasio and the “horrific conditions [the mayor’s] negligence has created.” He indicated that nearly 1,300 COs have resigned since 2019 because of the conditions.
Will De Blasio Finally Do Something?
Much criticism has been lobbed at De Blasio regarding the growing crisis. Although he recently announced a five-point plan for addressing the issues and indicated he would visit the facility, which he has not done in 4 years, it is common knowledge that he has pledged to close the facility.
The mayor’s plan was immediately criticized. Many are afraid, with only four months left in office, that the problems will just be inherited by his successor.
But Eric Adams, the favorite to win the position in the general election, while supporting the closure of the facility, has openly objected to the locations for the new jail sites. A former police captain, Adams has visited Rikers and has offered his own plan that includes moving addicted and mentally ill inmates out of the facility.
The Necessity of Skilled NYC Criminal Defense
The majority of those at Rikers are awaiting trial and simply cannot afford bail, sometimes waiting months for a trial date. In the meantime, family members whose loved ones are being held there fear for their lives in a setting where wolves guard the henhouse.
It is critical for anyone facing criminal charges in New York to get criminal defense representation as soon as possible to ensure this doesn’t happen to you or a loved one. Contact us at Bukh Law. We may be able to help. Call us at (212) 729-1632 to discuss your or your loved one’s case.