'I'm done': Rikers officers quitting in record numbers

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ByDan Krauth via WABC logo
Tuesday, September 20, 2022 9:55PM
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Correction officers at Rikers Island are quitting in record numbers and some say they're losing control of inmates. Dan Krauth has the story.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Correction officers at Rikers Island are quitting in record numbers. Some officers tell 7 On Your Side Investigates they may have custody of the inmates but they're losing control and now city leaders are debating whether to eliminate a form of discipline used inside the jail.

"I was like, I'm done," said Jonathan Suarez.

After five years on the job as a correction officer at Rikers, Suarez said he had enough. He resigned from what he once thought was his dream job this summer.

"It's a difficult place to be, it's hard to go over that bridge and do your job every day," said Suarez.

Out of all of the people in his large recruitment class, Suarez says he only knows a few who are still left on the job today.

"Really there's no control, the inmates really took control of the facility," said Suarez. "The housing areas are run by gang members."

Suarez said he was working 16-hour days, had no lunch breaks, and was often the only officer guarding 45 inmates.

"Now it's just, you're on your own and there's nobody there to protect you and help you," said Suarez.

More than 3,000 officers left over the last three years.

"We're in a state of crisis right now," said Benny Boscio Jr. of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association. "This year alone we've lost 600 officers due to the same thing, resignations and retirements. We're getting assaulted, there's no consequences, this is our sad reality."

It's also a sad reality for inmates.

"You're not able to do take inmates for medical attention, into their courts to see the judge to be proven guilty or not guilty, it's just difficult for both parties," said Suarez.

The city council voted against adding hundreds of new officers this year to replace the ones who left.

"There are some folks that are saying it's getting better and I would tell you that it's patently false," said council member Tiffany Caban.

She represents the area and toured the jail last week. She believes adding additional officers isn't the answer.

"We have more correctional staff per incarcerated person than any other facility across the country," said Caban. "The problem is a few things, from top down it's gross mismanagement from the top down."

The officers' union disagrees. And even though there are fewer inmates than there were a few years ago, the union says there are fewer officers and more programs where officers are needed.

"You need more correction officers, we're running unmanned areas right now," said Boscio.

And now the council's looking to ban the use of a form of discipline inside jails called punitive segregation - otherwise known as solitary confinement. They begin debating new proposed legislation on Friday.

"How could somebody basically commit a crime in jail and have no punishment in jail, there should be some type of punishment," said Suarez.

Some critics call it torture, while many officers call it an essential jail within a jail for violent inmates who act out.

As of now, a majority of the city council supports getting rid of it.

The NYC Department of Correction said it has already eliminated punitive segregation altogether but still uses what's called Enhanced Supervision Housing for inmates who commit the most violent Acts.

Even then a department spokesperson said inmates get at least seven hours a day outside of their cells.

In a statement, a DOC spokesperson said, "We've been committed to not only improving conditions in our jails but supporting our staff as they perform one of the hardest jobs there is. The greatest difference someone can make in our jails is by working in them as a correction officer dedicated to safety and to changing lives for the better."

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