Photos obtained by the New York Post show the inhumane conditions at Rikers Island amid significant staff absenteeism at the island jail in the East River. The pictures, taken between July and late September, depict up to 26 inmates crammed into a cell meant for a single person at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, where men have been forced to relieve themselves in plastic bags and take turns sleeping on the floor.
“It was inhumane,” a Rikers source told the Post. “They’re not supposed to be there that long; the intake is just a place to process the inmates.” City regulations require that detainees be assigned a proper housing area within 24 hours. But due to deteriorating conditions amid the pandemic and a shortage of correction officers — some of whom have been calling out sick without stating a reason — men have stayed inside the intake cells for as long as six days. Inmates in the packed cells “routinely ran out” of food, according to the Rikers source, and had little access to toilets, toilet paper, showers, medical care, or legal aid.
The photos come three days after this year’s death toll for inmates in city custody rose to 14. On Monday, 58-year-old Anthony Scott was taken off life support after he was found hanging in a holding cell in Manhattan Criminal Court. Scott, who had autism, was being held on $15,000 bail and awaiting disposition on an assault charge for punching a nurse in the face at a hospital. In September, during a widely publicized visit to Rikers Island by city and state lawmakers, State Senator Jessica Ramos claimed that she and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas “witnessed someone trying to commit suicide” in a punitive segregation unit. “It was a house of horrors,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Correction told the Post that the “conditions in these photos do not exist at Rikers Island today,” claiming the city has expanded and cleaned intake facilities and has not violated the 24-hour limit since the Eric M. Taylor Center reopened for processing in late September. To address the crisis, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on September 15 a five-point plan to expand processing and issue 30-day suspensions to correction officers calling out of work without a reason. (In August, the daily average of COs calling out with no explanation was 1,416.)
Since the policy was announced a little over a month ago, four more people have died in custody.