NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — City lawmakers wanted to see the problems on Rikers Island for themselves. Concerns have reached a tipping point after a 10th detainee was recently found dead, reports of increased violence against staff, and one-third of the staff calling out sick.
CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas has more on what they found.
It was one thing for them to hear reports about the detainee deaths and dangers on Rikers Island, but it was completely different for them to witness the deteriorating conditions with their own eyes.
“Women being sexually assaulted and pulled into cells because it’s not safe. It’s outrageous,” state Sen. Allesandra Biaggi said.
“The toilets are overflowing onto the floor. They’re packed in, 25 people in a cell without masks,” added Alice Fontaine of Defender Services.
“I just witnessed an attempted suicide,” Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas added.
“Shame on us. Shame on us. Shame on all of us who are elected officials in New York,” state Sen. Jessica Ramos said.
Lawmakers and advocates could not un-see what they described as horrors behind the walls of the city jail, creating a pressure cooker environment that has erupted into violence and correction officers calling out sick, with fears mounting about an all-out revolt.
“Twenty-five-plus hours working straight, no meal breaks. And then they wonder why we’re not coming to work, why officers are AWOL. Assaults on my members are through the roof,” said Benny Boscio Jr., of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.
The correction officers union wants thousands more officers hired, while lawmakers say district attorneys should be advocating for sending fewer people to Rikers in the first place, adding those currently being held for violating parole with minor infractions should be released.
“This is not a problem of understaffing. This is a problem of mass incarceration and the overstuffing of people behind those bars,” state Sen. Jabari Brisport said.
“It has been neglected for years, so it could fall apart so that this narrative be created that, ‘Oh, we have to close Rikers Island.’ They created this mess,” Boscio said.
But something needs to happen immediately. Lawmakers say it’s a matter of life and death.
Lawmakers and advocates are urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign the “Less is More Act” that would not incarcerate parolees for technical violations — like missing curfew or failing a drug and alcohol test.