Push to shut down Rikers Island prison renewed amid staff shortages, chaos

Northeast

NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — The inmates of New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex are living down to their infamous reputation in ways people could never imagine. The New York Times reported on Monday that the detainees have completely taken over the facility — some have even stolen keys and used them to free other prisoners.  

On Sept. 16, a Rikers inmate hijacked an unguarded bus and repeatedly crashed it into a jail building, according to the Times. Other detainees are running wild and attacking each other, or wandering through restricted areas.

Benny Boscio Jr., president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, blamed the crisis on understaffing in the prison.

“Not staffing properly, there are unmanned posts in Rickers,” he said.

Uniformed personnel at the city’s jails has plummeted, from a staff of 10,862 in the 2017 fiscal year to 8,388 in 2021. The guard’s union says 7,600 of staff are correctional officers and the rest are in supervisory roles. At one point in the summer, one-third of guards were out sick or medically unfit to work with inmates, the city said. Additionally, an untold number of guards went AWOL.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, recently visited Rikers Island for the first time since 2017. He has been accused of avoiding the trouble-plagued jail.

“I’m very focused on addressing the situation at Rikers,” de Blasio said during a press conference. 

Conditions at the jail complex, which is made up of eight buildings and currently houses about 4,800 inmates, have led to growing calls on both sides of the aisle to overhaul or immediately close Rickers Island, which the city has said will be shuttered by 2027. 

On Sept. 24, U.S. District Court Judge Laura T. Swain ordered the New York Department of Corrections to follow the recommendations of a federal monitor on security breaches and suicidal behavior.

Prison reform advocates are pushing harder than ever to close Rikers for good. So far, 12 New York City detainees have died in custody this year. Eleven of them were being held in the Riker’s Island jail complex.

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