Sept. 22, 2021 By Allie Griffin
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other New York Congress members are calling on both the governor and mayor to immediately shut down the Rikers Island jail complex.
Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velázquez penned a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday demanding that they shut down the jail and release those detained.
“We urgently write to you with concern on the current human rights violations and humanitarian crisis at Rikers Island Correctional Facility (Rikers),” the Congress members wrote. “We strongly believe that those who are detained at Rikers should be immediately released and the facility shut down.”
Their letter follows numerous reports of inhumane conditions on Rikers Island and the death of a detainee on Sunday — who became the 11th inmate fatality at the detention center this year.
“It has become evident that the conditions at Rikers… are deplorable, and nothing short of a humanitarian crisis,” the lawmakers wrote.
Elected officials say a staffing crisis at the Rikers Island detention facility has led to poor oversight, limited medical access for inmates and inhumane conditions.
The average number of correction officers out sick each day more than doubled and the number of unannounced no-shows among the officers more than tripled between July 2020 and July 2021, THE CITY reported.
As a result, guards who do show up to work have been forced to work exhausting double or triple shifts.
The city has filed a lawsuit against the union representing the guards due to the steep rise in unexcused absences. De Blasio is seeking a $1 million fine against the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association for every day of excessive absences.
Meanwhile, self-harm incidents — including suicides —among detainees have also spiked since the beginning of the pandemic, according to THE CITY.
In fact, Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas and State Sen. Jessica Ramos said they witnessed an attempted suicide with their own eyes on a visit to the facility on Sept. 13.
I just came out of Rikers Island where @jessicaramos & I witnessed an attempted suicide. The conditions on Rikers are inhumane. We need action.
1. District Attorneys stop asking for cash bail
2. The Mayor must release ppl inside
3. We urge the Governor to sign Less Is More pic.twitter.com/rifZQjFfbP
— Jessica González-Rojas (@votejgr) September 13, 2021
The state legislators described appalling conditions they saw at Rikers — such as excessive overcrowding in jail cells and feces and garbage strewn about the ground. They said several people had not received their medications for weeks and inmates were deprived of showers, food and water.
1/3 What I saw on Rikers will stay with me indefinitely. The inhumane & unsanitary conditions were appalling. Dozens of men crammed into small cells while being deprived of food, water, showers & medical attention. The care so poor one man attempted suicide right before my eyes. pic.twitter.com/gEazINyI6Q
— Jessica Ramos (@jessicaramos) September 15, 2021
Ocasio-Cortez thanked the two legislators and several others for bringing attention to the issues at the Rikers facilities.
She and her Congressional colleagues noted that the majority of inmates at Rikers are being held as they await their day in court. More than 70 percent are being held pre-trial.
“As of Sept. 16, 2021, over 4,600 of the roughly 6,000 people in DOC custody were being detained pretrial – representing over 76 percent of the system’s population – with nearly 1,500 detained for misdemeanor or non-violent crimes,” they wrote in the letter.
The Congress members said these inmates must be released and that federal funding that the facility receives should be used to support their re-entry into society.
“The current conditions experienced at Rikers are inhumane, unconstitutional, and a public health crisis” they wrote. “We believe federal funds should be used to decarcerate and shut down the facility immediately, as well as provide social, economic, psychological, and physical health support to all those that are released to ensure their safe re-entry into our community.”