NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York state Assembly held a hearing Friday on the conditions at Rikers Island and other New York City correctional facilities amid dangerous and worsening conditions at the troubled jail.
In the last few months, Rikers has become dangerously overcrowded, filthy, and severely short-staffed with many correction officers simply refusing to show up for work.
More than a dozen inmates have died in custody so far this year, along with more than 12,000 attacks on employees.
"This is a true humanitarian crisis at Rikers Island," Assemblyman David Weprin said. "Over the past few months, my office received some very disturbing correspondence regarding deteriorating conditions, staff shortages, a rise in violence, and many deaths of incarcerated individuals."
In 2019, the average monthly number of AWOL officers was 645 a month. But now, that number has climbed to more than 2,000 a month.
At the hearing, officials said of the 5,500 inmates at Rikers, 445 of them are there simply because they can't pay a $1 bail.
"I thought it was shocking, the same as you," Assemblyman Kenny Burgos said. "I mean, the fact that we have not identified this population as a way to decrease the population immediately."
Benny Boscio Jr., the head of the correction officer union, wouldn't answer if he thought his members should be vaccinated against COVID-19.
"I'm not a doctor," he said. "I don't know. I mean, I'm not a medical doctor."
Assembly members were livid that the union isn't urging its officers to get vaccinated, as only 45% have gotten the shot.
"To say it's your choice ignores the facts and the science and the information that's out there," Assemblyman Harvey Epstein said.
Boscio also defended his members who have gone AWOL.
"We're being assaulted with impunity, and you want to know why my members are out sick?" he said. "Twenty-five-plus hours working without meal breaks. You want to know why people are out sick?"
They also attributed the overcrowding at Rikers to a court system that's become a joke.
They've not recovered from the pandemic, and intead of dozens of trials every week, there are only a handful.
"There were two trials going on in the Bronx and one trial going on in Manhattan," DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said. "We are never going to get there if those numbers stay the way they are."
Perhaps the most disheartening news was that Rikers, despite all its many problems, is still not slated to close until 2027.
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