At least nine people have died in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction this year, including two deaths this week alone.
On Tuesday, a man died in custody in the prison ward at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. On Monday, an inmate died at the George R Vierno Center in the city’s main jail complex on Rikers Island. Last year, at least 16 people died in custody at Rikers.
Another man recently detained at the facility, Antonio Bradley, died eight days after he attempted to hang himself inside a holding cell at the Bronx Criminal Court. He was on life support at Lincoln Hospital, but his death on June 18 was not recorded as an in-custody death because he was granted “compassionate release” while he was on his deathbed, according to The daily news from New York.
After visiting the troubled facility on June 22, Mayor Eric Adams said “the era of neglecting violence and dysfunction in our city’s jails is over,” noting the confiscation of more than 2,700 guns at the complex, attributed to the return of “uniformed personnel returning to work” and “tactical search operations”.
“There is much work to be done, but [Department of Correction commissioner Louis Molina] and I am committed to meeting the challenges we face and implementing the reforms necessary to build safer and more humane jails for those who live and work in Rikers,” the mayor said in a statement.
While the City Council reports that rates of cuts and stabbings at the complex are down 63 percent since March, this month’s Board of Corrections reports show violence increased in April and May along with use-of-force incidents. among prison officers.
A statement from the Legal Aid Society, which represented Albert Drye, who died in Bellevue on June 21, said the department refused to provide his attorneys with “the most basic information about his death,” an “all-too-common scenario that – along with the client’s family members, friends and community – are routinely confronted with these tragic situations.”
The organization demanded “immediate answers from city and jail medical staff” about his death, and revived calls for elected officials, prosecutors and others “to ease the incarceration of local jails before another New Yorker has to spend time.” his last moments confined to a cage in a facility facing a full-fledged humanitarian crisis.”
The mayor’s appearance and announcement at Rikers is “both irresponsible and cruel,” according to the Legal Aid Society.
“This is emblematic of how the City Council views incarcerated people as second-class citizens, guilty until proven innocent and unworthy of compassion,” the group said in a statement. “The extraordinarily high death rate during Mayor Adams’ tenure, and the suffering of all who are in abysmal conditions inside, is a humanitarian crisis that this administration seems unable to rectify anytime soon.”
Advocates have pressed federal authorities to address the crisis, but a federal judge this month approved the city’s reform “action plan,” which could prevent a federal takeover of the jail.
The plan “represents a way forward with concrete steps now to address the ongoing crisis on Rikers Island,” according to a filing by US District Judge Laura Taylor Swain.
Judge Swain warned that the city could face consequences if officials “fail to follow through on their commitments and demonstrate their ability to make urgently needed changes.”
A 26-page plan released by the city in May outlines steps for the Department of Correction to address staffing issues and reshuffle leadership. Mayor Adams also issued an executive order creating an interagency task force to address the crisis at the jail.
“As the plan makes clear and as the court agreed, we have a strategy in place to aggressively unravel the dysfunction that has plagued prisons and put them on the path of real and lasting reform,” Mayor Adams said in a statement earlier this month. this month.
“We will not rest until the dysfunction at Rikers is eliminated, these reforms are implemented, and the people in our care and who work on the island are safe 24 hours a day,” he said.
A federal monitor appointed to monitor deteriorating conditions at the jail was cautiously optimistic about potential progress at the jail, but warned he had “serious concerns” about the city’s ability to implement the plan, arguing that the plan is not enough by itself to address the daily “danger, violence and chaos” inside the prison.
After “decades of mismanagement, a quagmire of bureaucracy, and limited competencies for many of the people who must lead the necessary transformation, serious concerns remain about whether the City and Department are able to fully and faithfully implement this Action Plan with integrity,” according to the federal surveillance team.