Agency: Rikers, 4 Upstate Jails 'Worst' In New York

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced an agreement Wednesday to replace Rikers Island with “a smaller, safer and fairer borough-based jail system.”

Surrounded by advocates, community leaders and lawmakers, the mayor said lawmakers have agreed to a single public review process for four proposed sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens that will include space for 5,000 detainees.

De Blasio called it “a huge step forward on our path to closing Rikers Island.” The mayor announced last March that he intended to close the complex, saying it will take a decade.

“We also need the state to address the fact that it has hundreds of its parolees in our jail system,” de Blasio said.  “The state needs to take responsibility for those individuals and get them off Rikers to relieve the burden.”

But in a statement, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said he was “surprised to learn that the administration has already selected a site for a new jail in The Bronx.”

“I hope that, going forward, this lack of outreach is not a harbinger of the amount of community input the people of my borough will have in this process,” he said. “I expect that the administration will present my office with a detailed outline of their plans for a new jail, and I will examine those plans carefully as the process moves forward.”

Johnson later apologized to Diaz, saying “we have to do a better job keeping him in the loop.”

News of the agreement to replace Rikers came as a state watchdog agency deemed the facility and four upstate jails as the worst local jails in New York.

The Commission of Correction on Wednesday submitted to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leaders of the Legislature a report that identifies the five jails as “the most problematic local correctional facilities” out of the 74 the state oversees.

EXTRA: Read The Full Report

“These facilities pose an ongoing risk to the health and safety of staff and inmates and, in instances, impose cruel and inhumane treatment of inmates in violation of their Constitutional rights,” the commission said.

The report said Rikers “continues to be plagued by managerial failures, significant structural problems, regulatory compliance failures, identified deficiencies that remain unaddressed, and unabated harm to both staff and inmates alike.”

The agency said it has tried to help jail management fix the issues, but the ongoing problems highlight “the need for closure of all jail facilities located on Rikers Island.”

In addition to Rikers Island, which is run by New York City, the report listed the other “worst offenders” as the Greene County Jail in Catskill, the Buffalo area’s Erie County Holding Center and Correctional Facility, the Dutchess County Jail in Poughkeepsie, and the Syracuse area’s Onondaga County Justice Center and Penitentiary.

The problems the commission found at the other four jails include inmate escapes, obsolete facilities, guard posts left unstaffed, and overcrowding.

The chief counsel to the governor, Alphonso David, said the Cuomo administration will demand a quick resolution to what he called “systemic, unconscionable and illegal conditions.”

He also called the plan to close Rikers in 10 years “wholly unacceptable and repugnant to federal and state constitutional principles.”

“The governor, who has been fighting for meaningful criminal justice reform his entire career, has repeatedly said 10 years is too long because ‘justice delayed is justice denied,'” he said.

The city’s Department of Correction didn’t have an immediate response to the report.

De Blasio said Wednesday “if the governor and the Legislature want to help us close Rikers more quickly, they have the power to do so and if they don’t, then it’s on them that it’s going to take longer.”

The mayor added that the city will be giving a more detailed response to the report.

Separately Wednesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the head of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association called on the de Blasio administration to reinstate solitary confinement for violent inmates under the age of 21.

“We have a mayor, a City Council and others who are big on opening new jails and they are failing to keep the jails that they currently have safe,” COBA President Elias Husamudeen said.

Four inmates have been charged in an attack on a Rikers correction officer, 39-year-old Jean Roston Souffrant, over the weekend. The officer was hospitalized with serious injuries to his spine and neck. All four inmates pleaded not guilty.

Adams said violent inmates must be segregated from other prisoners, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.

“The inmates who attacked Officer Souffrant already had a violent history,” he said. “They go to court, they get bumped up in their street gang and then go back to the facility and get their iPad and their $25 stipend. This is a joke.”

The de Blasio administration announced Wednesday that DOC is launching a $4.5 million safety and security initiative aimed at addressing violence by inmates against correction officers.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)