Mayor addresses uptick in Rikers inmates assaulting correction officers

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio fired back Monday in response to criticism from the Correction Officer's Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen Sunday night that the Mayor doesn't have, "a healthy respect for law and order."

Husamudeen's comments were in response to a Rikers inmate assault on a correction officer Saturday, leaving the officer with burns and a broken nose.

The assault marked the fourth attack on a correction officer since mid-February. Other officers have been slashed, punched and one left with a fractured spine.

The inmate behind the latest attack, J'von Johnson, was scheduled to appear in Bronx Criminal Court Monday to face new charges for the assault. Johnson was already facing murder charges as well as several counts of felony assault.

"In all honesty, I have members who are afraid," Husamudeen said.

Husamudeen complained violence at Rikers has increased since de Blasio initiated reforms restricting how inmates are punished for bad behavior while in jail, such as ending punitive segregation for inmates 21-years-old and under.

"That's ridiculous and that's unfair," de Blasio said. "He shouldn't play politics with something so important. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make Rikers Island safer."

Mayor de Blasio referenced increases in cameras at Rikers, a more intensive process for keeping out contraband and an increase in the intensity of training for staff as examples in the investments he's made toward safety at Rikers.

The Mayor added that while he stands behind his decisions to restrict punitive segregation, the union does have a valid point that other alternative punishments are needed to deter violence.

"This is one area where I think the union has raised some very valid concerns," de Blasio said.

Incident data from the Department of Correction indicates a 2 percent increase in overall assaults on staff in 2017 compared to the prior year.

Of the 862 assaults in 2017, DOC said 414 resulted in minor injury and 63 resulted in serious injury, equating to a 5% and 34% increase in injury assaults and serious injury assaults compared to the prior year.

DOC said that of the 63 people sustaining serious injuries in 2017 during assaults on staff, only 38 of those people were DOC staff members, representing a 27% in serious injuries to staff specifically in 2017 compared to the prior year.

DOC pointed out that despite the year over year uptick in 2017, assaults on staff were generally down in 2017 compared to a high point in the Mayor's time in office in 2015.

"We need these jails to be safe and we need them to be safe today," Husamudeen said.

In February, the Department of Correction promised to spend $4.5 million toward increasing safety at Rikers.

The measures promised by DOC including adding specially trained emergency response patrol units, expanding the deployment of tasers by more than five-fold, and increasing information sharing with the New York Police Department to prevent violence, all by the end of June.
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