Report: Rikers Island prison is nearly completely controlled by the prisoners, have ‘near total control’

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YORK CITY, NY – New York’s infamous Riker’s Island jail has descended into lawlessness and prisoners have taken control of some areas, according to a report in The New York Times. Monitors assigned to the jail called the situation an “emergency.”

A report in The New York Times paints a picture of anarchy inside New York’s main jail complex, where inmates have seized control of entire units.

In an article dated October 11, journalists Jan Ransom, Jonah E. Bromwich and Rebecca Davis O’Brien document the chaos:

“Detainees in some buildings have seized near total control over entire units, deciding who can enter and leave them, records and interviews show. In other buildings, they have wandered in and out of staff break rooms and similarly restricted areas, with some flouting rules against smoking tobacco and marijuana.

“Much has been made of the crisis gripping Rikers, New York City’s main jail complex — the pandemic and a subsequent staffing emergency have taken a brutal toll on incarcerated people and jailers alike — but the sheer lawlessness inside the compound is difficult to fathom.”

Always a dangerous place, 2021 has brought a new level of violence and dysfunction to the jail. So far, 12 detainees have died there, at least five of them by suicide. There were 39 stabbings and slashings in August, compared with seven last August, according to a late September status report by court-appointed federal monitors.

The monitors were put in place in a civil court settlement in the Nuñez v. City of New York, a 2011 class action suit filed by Rikers detainees. The monitors described the situation inside the prison as “an emergency”:

“(An emergency marked by ) violence among incarcerated people, violence at the hands of [s]taff, and violence toward [s]taff, in addition to a disturbing rise in self-harming behavior.

“(There are) failures to properly secure doors on cells, vestibules and control stations.”

Zachary Katznelson, executive director of the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, called the jail’s collapse into chaos as “next level”:

“Rikers has long been dysfunctional, decrepit and dangerous.

“What we see today is next level. It is an inability to deliver even the basic services – something we haven’t seen in a long time, if not ever.”

The Times reported that an inmate was even able to access a bus during the summer at the jail and used the bus to ram a prison building. Reportedly, the keys were left on the bus with unguarded prisoners at the time. The inmate then used the keys to free another prisoner. The article said:

“All he had to do was rise from where he sat with a half dozen other handcuffed men and walk to the front of the unguarded vehicle: A gate that should have confined him was left unsecured. The keys were in the ignition.

 “Putting the bus into gear, he rammed a jail building and then backed up and rammed it again, this time with enough force to shake the walls and scatter bricks.”

One incident included an inmate grabbing keys from a corrections officer and then slashing the guard’s face and neck. Yet another involved a prisoner kicking down a grate in his cell to crawl through and stab the man in the adjacent room.

The Times reported:

“Rikers houses more than 4,800 detainees on a given day, a majority of whom are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of a crime. Most do not commit violent acts, and a significant number struggle with mental illness. Twelve detainees, most on Rikers, have died this year, making 2021 the deadliest in New York City’s jail system since 2015.

“Four captains and eight correction officers have been punished for failing to perform their jobs properly in connection with those deaths.”

In September, detainees kept an open flame burning on a mop string in a staircase, using it to light cigarettes and joints.

The causes for the anarchy and violence running the jail depends on the person giving the message. Corrections officers sat staff shortages and new rules limiting the use of solitary confinement have exasperated the situation and made the guards’ duties more dangerous.

One guard said:

 “Officers have been burned by scalding water, cut, robbed, beat up and stomped out. Feces are being thrown on them.”

The monitors and some city officials are blaming the corrections officers, saying that they abuse their unlimited sick time.

The monitors report that over the past five months, thousands of officers have been calling in sick or not reporting to work at all. Those who do come in are often forced to work multiple shifts in a row, leading to fatigue, violence, burnout, and more absences.

Vincent Schiraldi , the city’s corrections commissioner, commented:

“This is what the end of mass incarceration looks like. It’s going to end messy, it’s going to end ugly. And that’s what’s happening right now.

“We expect and demand further improvement in the weeks to come. We won’t rest until conditions improve and everyone who lives and works in our facilities feels safe.”

Spread across eight jail buildings on an island in the East River, between the Bronx and Queens, Rikers houses more than 4,800 detainees on a given day, a majority of whom are awaiting trial and have not been convicted of a crime.

To illustrate the lack of control at Riker’s, The Times wrote about how some visitors and staff accept escorts through parts of the jail by inmates to keep them safe:

“Civilian staff members who arrived at one jail in September were greeted by a group of detainees who offered to escort them through the building to keep them safe.

“Moving farther into the jail, the employees were alarmed to see incarcerated people moving about freely, passing them in the halls and milling on staircases, with no guards in sight.”

Riker’s has been falling into disrepair for years, and the city kept promising to take steps to repair and modernize the complex. Despite the rhetoric out of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, The Prisoners’ Rights Project said the Mayor is not willing to make changes.

Mary Lynne Werlwas, the director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, said:

“Despite years of reform rhetoric, the de Blasio administration has been unable or unwilling to make serious changes.”

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Union boss: NYC Mayor de Blasio “criminally negligent” for dangerous conditions for staff at Riker’s Island

August 30, 2021

 

NEW YORK CITY, NY- According to reports, conditions for correction officers working on New York City’s notorious Rikers Island have deteriorated so significantly over the past year, leaving personnel understaffed, overworked, and vulnerable, that it has become impossible for them to do their jobs.

Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio said that inmate housing arrangements, understaffing of correction officers and lack of support from city officials have contributed to a dangerous work environment for those tasked with protecting the inmates and the facility at large.

He added:

“We’re working 25-plus hours straight, no meal breaks, the conditions of having gang members in the same housing areas – gang affiliated housing, we’re being assaulted with impunity.”

Fox News obtained several videos that show inmates’ violent attacks on correction officers, which sources allege took place on Rikers Island.

The various videos show inmates repeatedly punching or kicking officers in the head and body, and charging them or throwing harmful items in their direction. Boscio added:

“Broken bones, stitches, stabbings. Officers are getting stabbed. Twenty-six stitches to the face, broken orbital, broken noses. We’re being seriously assaulted.”

Boscio confirmed that the number of inmates being held on violent felony charges have jumped by 23 percent in roughly the past year. 

The New York Post described how Rikers Island inmates are damaging property, answering phones and gallivanting around the facility amid ongoing understaffing concerns that have caused some areas of the jail to be left unsupervised.

At the time, 26 correction officers were working quadruple shifts, 35 were on triple shifts and 30 patrol posts across the facility were unmanned as the jail faces a continued staffing shortage. 

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) told Fox News that the agency consists of roughly 8,500 total uniformed personnel. The DOC also noted that the department has unlimited sick leave.

The department saw a 300 percent jump in the number of officers who were skipping out on work without calling in July 2021 compared to July 2020.

Under Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, who took office in June, the DOC is implementing new sick leave protocols, hiring 400 more officers and working with a federal monitor to adequately deploy officers to posts.

Other developments include the processing of employment candidates, expanding the correction officer exam filing period, and meeting with local judges and prosecutors regarding the department’s violent inmates. Schiraldi said in a statement:

“His agency was deeply concerned about the safety of our staff, medical staff, and incarcerated people in our facilities and are working hard to improve conditions.”

The statement added:

“We have been taking extensive measures to encourage staff to return to work, to relieve those who have been heroically working extra shifts to compensate, and to make this an environment where any parent would feel like their own son or daughter was safe working or living here.”

Boscio points blame at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, for “turning his back on us.”  He added:

“At this point, I feel like the mayor has been criminally negligent. He’s so wrapped up in his ideology of closing Rikers that he doesn’t even have an answer for the violence that we’re dealing with.”

He stated:

“It’s impossible for us to do our jobs, defend ourselves being that overworked, to defend other inmates.”

Boscio confirmed that de Blasio, who is a Democrat, has not visited Rikers Island in “over four years.” After a major push by de Blasio and other New York City Democrats, lawmakers voted in October 2019 in favor of a plan to shut down Rikers and instead build new detention centers.

However, Rikers is not expected to officially close until 2026. Boscio said that in the meantime, “it’s like nobody cares,” adding:

“I feel like they’ve washed their hands of us.”

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