New York City jails are now deadlier than they have been in more than 25 years, according to an analysis of city data by Gothamist.
As of Sunday, 19 people had died in city custody or shortly after being released this year, out of an average daily population of nearly 6,000 people. That is the highest since 1996, when 84 people died and the average daily population was nearly 20,000 people. Gothamist is tracking deaths in city custody here.
On Sunday, Edgardo Mejias, 39, died on Rikers Island, according to the city Department of Corrections. Mejias had been held since October on $15,000 bail.
The department did not explain the circumstances behind Mejias’s death. Mejias’s attorney, Dean Vigliano, said his client had asthma, and had complained that he wasn’t getting proper medical care for the condition at the Anna M. Kross Center jail where he was held. Vigliano said he outlined his concerns last month in a letter to the correction department. He was told on Friday that Mejias would be put on a treatment plan, he said.
“When I saw him in November he was really bent out of shape over it, he couldn’t breathe,” Vigliano said. He said he believes that Mejias is survived by a teenage son.
“He always had a smile when he saw me…I’m sorry for what happened,” Vigliano said.
In addition to the high death rate, Rikers has been plagued this year by skyrocketing violence and lack of access to medical care. A federal monitoring team that oversees Rikers has collected more than $18 million in taxpayer money since 2015 in order to force reforms, but data shows the jails have only gotten less safe.