The NYC Department of Corrections reported the death of another inmate on Wednesday, bringing the number of detainees who have died in the city’s jails this year up to 12, three of them dying in the past two weeks.
The New York Times reports that a man held at the Vernon C. Bain Center, a prison barge docked on the East River in the Bronx, suffered an undisclosed medical incident and was transported to a local hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The 11 others who have died were all held in custody on Rikers Island, where officials have placed the blame on staffing shortages, with many corrections officers calling out sick or not showing up for work at all, forcing others to work triple shifts.
Mayor Bill de Blasio indicated that he would rein in these absences by suspending corrections officers who don’t show up for work without a valid excuse and requiring doctor’s notes. Benny Boscio Jr., the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, called the move a “reckless and knee-jerk solution.” De Blasio, in turn, said the union has “aided and abetted mass absenteeism” at Rikers.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Letitia James visited Rikers with the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens district attorneys. In a statement released after the visit, James said she was “deeply disturbed” by what she saw. Her office is currently looking into some of the claims made about the conditions at the jail.
Meanwhile, Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed the Less Is More Act into law, which would stop the state from locking up people for minor parole violations. She also announced the release of 191 detainees from Rikers and said the state would start facilitating the transfer of some inmates from Rikers to state prison facilities.
De Blasio’s plan has been criticized for not making an effort to reduce the Rikers population. Representatives Jamaal Bowman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jerry Nadler, and Nydia Velázquez sent a letter to Hochul and de Blasio, advocating for the closure of the jail and the release of those incarcerated there, calling the conditions “nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.”
When asked about the letter, de Blasio pushed back on the idea of releasing all the Rikers inmates, saying, “I couldn’t disagree with them more.” But he said he would be visiting the complex at one point in the future, after being criticized for not doing so already.
De Blasio and the City Council approved a plan two years ago to close Rikers by 2026 and replace it with smaller jails in each borough, but it has run into delays.