Rikers Island: Mayor unveils emergency plan to address overcrowding, staffing issues

Dan Krauth Image
Tuesday, September 14, 2021
De Blasio unveils plan to address Rikers overcrowding, staffing issues
Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled details of an "emergency" plan to address ongoing overcrowding, staffing problems and violence at Rikers Island.

RIKERS ISLAND, New York City (WABC) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday unveiled the Emergency Rikers Relief Plan to address ongoing overcrowding, staffing problems, and violence at the troubled jail.

"We have a situation that is just not acceptable and has to change fundamentally," de Blasio said. "We are going to use emergency orders to make some very intense changes in the situation."

The mayor also called for action across the justice system, including immediately calendaring 500 court cases and enacting the Less is More Act that restricts incarcerating New Yorkers for technical and non-criminal parole violations.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio unveils his Emergency Rikers Relief Plan to address overcrowding and staffing issues at the jail complex.

"New York City will take any action necessary to keep everyone safe throughout the justice system," he said. "These reforms will do just that, both by taking immediate steps to put officers back on duty and by making deeper reforms to reduce the number of incarcerated New Yorkers. We will uphold our obligation to provide a safe, clean environment on Rikers Island while pivoting to a fairer and more humane justice system."

The announcement came one day after lawmakers came away from a tour of the jail complex using words like "inhumane" and "horrific," and a week after a 7 On Your Side Investigation found an increase in gang violence and unprecedented correction officers sick calls with some working 25-hour shifts.

The Emergency Rikers Relief Plan includes the following:

--Adjust staffing at courts by shifting NYPD to help operate courts, allowing some Department of Correction (DOC) staff to shift back to duty on Rikers

--Toughen accountability for AWOL staffers with 30-day suspensions for Correction officers who do not show up to a post.

--Expand medical evaluation capacity for staff with additional medical providers to evaluate DOC officers for duty

--Engage in emergency contracting to quickly repair broken doors, clean facilities more efficiently, distribute commissary more quickly, scan mail onto tablets to reduce drugs entering facilities, and more

--Speed intake to reduce crowding with a goal of moving people through the intake process in 24 hours or fewer. Two currently closed clinic spaces will be opened to allow greater capacity

RELATED | Rikers Island officers 'scared to go back to work' amid spike in violence

Inside Rikers Island, there's an increase in violence, and it's not just attacks amongst inmates. Assaults against corrections officers are up by 23%.

The mayor also called for actions across the justice system in the following areas:

--Enacting the Less is More Act

--Speeding up transfers out of Rikers into state-operated locations in five days or less

--Calendaring 500 court cases immediately out of the 5,000 people on Rikers Island in pre-trial, including over 1,500 people have been held for over one year

--Encouraging judges to use supervised release for non-violent offenders, instead of pre-trial detention at Rikers

Monday's tour of the complex resulted in shocked reactions from state and local lawmakers.

"It is a nightmare, a nightmare back there," state Senator Jabari Brisport said.

One lawmaker said dogs in kennels are treated better than the 6,000 inmates.

"What we saw today was horrific," Assembly member Zohran Mamdani said.

The lawmakers and officials pleaded for prosecutors not to send any new inmates to the jail and for Governor Kathy Hochul to sign a new bill that could let up to 1,000 inmates go who are inside on technical and parole violations.

Our 7 On Your Side investigation showed the number of inmates is up, while the amount of officers is down due to retirements and resignations.

After the mayor announced his new plan, the union representing the officers asked why he hasn't visited Rikers in more than four years.

"Yeah I obviously have been several times in the past, and I've worked on these issues bluntly," he responded.

The union released a statement that says in part:

"Mayor de Blasio's latest reckless and knee jerk solution to the crisis he has created for the past eight years only reaffirms why he is unfit for office and for the sake of saving the thousands of lives at Rikers Island, he must resign immediately."

The city is hiring 600 new officers this fall but the union says they have lost that many officers due to resignations and retirements over the past few months.

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