Councilwoman Crowley: 'They Certainly Have Enough Money' In Budget To Fix Problems

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A blistering new report raises troubling questions about safety hazards in and around city jails and prisons.

The report shows dozens of violations that include lack of fire exits and smoke alarms and major sprinkler problems.

And the plans to fix all this could extend an eye-popping 11 years.

CBS2’s Marcia Kramer is investigating why the Department of Correction hasn’t done anything about it.

“It’s simply dangerous. We should not have to wait for a horrible tragedy to happen before the city does what it’s supposed to do,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, D-Queens, told Kramer.

Crowley, chair of the committee that oversees the city’s Department of Correction, was furious after CBS2 showed her a report prepared for the agency’s federal monitor.

The May 2015 report said: “The lack of interest by DOC in completing projects or correcting any life safety deficiencies is significant.” Among other things, the report details delays in installing fire alarms and fire suppression systems. Those were just some of the worrisome findings:

* At the north infirmary on Rikers: Numerous life safety issues not being addressed, ranging from fire alarms to sprinklers to combustible loading.

* At the Anna M. Kross Center on Rikers, the recommendation that special smoke detection be provided in every cell was ignored.

“DOC has indicated that they will not provide the added detection,” the report said.

* At the Manhattan detention center, “the major life safety item is the inoperative stairwell pressurization system for maintaining the stairwells clear of smoke during a fire evacuation.”

One man Kramer spoke to was recently released from the Manhattan detention center.

“They got to fix it (because) the fire happened the other day,” Miguel Hernandez of Harlem said. “They got to fix it because they smoke in there all the time.”

With up to 11,000 inmates and thousands of guards and visitors, safety concerns are real. Crowley said it’s not like the department can’t afford the fixes.

Kramer: “Do they have enough money?”

Crowley: “They certainly have enough money. There’s hundreds of millions of dollars in their capital budget.”

Officials are also worried that failure to do the life safety fixes can result in tragedy. Comptroller Scott Stringer said 2,245 personal injury claims were filed last year against the DOC, A 37-percent increase.

“The is a situation that has gone on far too long and we have to be mindful, not just because it puts financial pressure on the city, but it also has a human element, which is you do not want to put people in harm’s way,” Stringer said.

Late Thursday, a DOC spokesman said the agency “has robust fire evacuation procedures in place and Commissioner (Joseph) Ponte is committed to ensuring that staff and inmates alike are not at risk. The department has taken significant steps with FDNY to remedy these long-standing concerns.”

The DOC spokesman did not address a significant finding that it could take 11 years – until 2026 to fix everything.

The agency does admit to having over $100 million in the budget for fire safety and says it has installed new alarm systems in at least nine facilities, Kramer reported.

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