Rampant violence and operational failures continue to plague Rikers Island, despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s stated progress in addressing the jail’s dire conditions, according to a new report from a federal monitor overseeing the city’s detention facilities.
The status report is the first since de Blasio visited Rikers Island last month to defend the “real impact” of his interventions, which included shuttering a backlogged intake center and suspending correction officers who skip out on work.
While the monitoring team noted a “few positive steps forward,” it found that the actions “have not materially abated the high risk of harm prevalent in the daily operations of the New York [Department of Correction] to both incarcerated persons and staff.”
“Quantitative and qualitative data demonstrate that the situation remains as grave as previously reported,” according to the October 14th report.
In the first 12 days of this month, there were 11 stabbings or slashings at the city’s jails, along with an “extremely high” number of use-of-force incidents. Three people died while in custody of the Department of Correction during the month of September — equal to the total number of deaths in all of 2019.
Self-harm incidents have also continued to rise, while “deficits in basic security practices,” such as failing to lock doors or intervene in violent encounters quickly, remain prevalent, according to the monitor.
The report placed much of the blame on leadership failures by correctional supervisors, whose lack of accountability has allegedly created “an environment where staff can act with impunity."
“The Monitoring Team remains concerned about whether Department leadership possess the level of competency to safely manage the jails,” the report added.
In recent days, detainees have told WNYC/Gothamist that correction officers are frequently missing from their posts, and have, at times, fallen asleep on the job. Absent any supervision, one detainee claimed, men in his housing unit had taken matters into their own hands, fashioning broken pieces of plexiglass into weapons for self-defense.
During his weekly appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show on Friday, the mayor said he was focused on reducing the jail’s population, while insisting his reforms were making a difference. “A lot of work has happened in the last few months,” he said. “It’s a very different reality.”
But his own rosy assessment seemed to be undermined by Department of Correction Commissioner Vince Schiraldi, who told PIX11 on Friday that “the inmates are in control" of some housing units. "There are times when we have no one on posts in units, so the incarcerated people are in there by themselves, which should never ever occur," Schiraldi said.
While the mayor has said that “hundreds” of correction officers had returned to work, the Department of Correction has not responded to repeated requests from WNYC/Gothamist about current staffing levels.
The report also noted that communication between the federal monitor's oversight team and the de Blasio administration had “devolved” over recent months, leading to lapses in the monitor’s ability to supervise jail operations.
The monitoring team was appointed by a federal judge in 2015 following a class action lawsuit brought by detainees who said they suffered “unprovoked” beatings at the hands of guards at Rikers.