Mayor Bill de Blasio insisted Tuesday he is applying “very intense changes” — including punishing absentee correction officers — to improve the dangerous and disorderly Rikers Island, after local politicians in recent days raised alarm about the “hellish” conditions there.
During his daily press briefing, de Blasio rolled out a plan to crack down on absenteeism at the city jail, to use NYPD officers to carry out corrections officers’ duties in courts, and to expand medical evaluation capacity.
“We have a situation that is just not acceptable, and it has to change, fundamentally,” he said. “It’s not acceptable, it has to be addressed.”
“We’re going to use emergency orders to make some very intense changes in the situation,” he added. “We need to do something very differently.”
The five-part “Emergency Rikers Relief Plan,” which includes a mayoral executive order, allows for the city to “quickly” enact a series of measures aimed at improving the situation at the recently out-of-control lockup, the mayor said.
“First of all … we’re going to bring in the NYPD to bring in the staffing support in the courts, in as many places as we can,” he explained, “so that in our court buildings, rather than corrections officer having to be there, NYPD officers can cover that role, correction officers can be back at Rikers where we need them.”
De Blasio announced Rikers will reopen two previously shuttered clinic spaces in order to speed up the intake process there; that the city is activating “emergency contracting” to mend and clean the jail’s dilapidated facilities; increasing medical capacity by hiring contracted physicians and medics to evaluate correction officers.
In addition, de Blasio said he is implementing a rule in which officers will be suspended without pay if they fail to properly verify their illness when they call out sick.
“Anyone who is out sick for more than one day will have to go to a doctor for an evaluation or provide appropriate documentation. If they don’t, there will be suspension without pay for 30 days,” said the mayor. “And any staff member who is AWOL will be held accountable with a 30-day suspension without pay.”
“We understand it’s tough work and a tough environment, but folks not showing up for work is unacceptable, and when any officer doesn’t show up for work, they actually put every other officer in danger.”
The Department of Corrections officer union blasted the “reckless,” punitive blueprint.
“Mayor de Blasio’s latest reckless and knee jerk solution to the crisis he has created for the past eight years only reaffirms why he is unfit for office and for the sake of saving the thousands of lives at Rikers Island, he must resign immediately,” said Benny Boscio,
“He has not visited Rikers in over four years and he has not witnessed first-hand the severity of the damage his policies have created which our officers must endure every day. COBA was not informed about this so-called plan nor were we given an opportunity to provide input on its implications,” his statement continued.
De Blasio’s plan comes after on Monday, a Rikers Island inmate attempted to hang himself in front of a pair of lawmakers during a disturbing tour of the lockup, according to Assemblywoman Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas (D-Queens).
In recent months, the dysfunctional environment on the short-staffed Rikers Island has been home to a series of fatalities.
Last week, 24-year-old Esias Johnson, who was awaiting trial, became the tenth person to die in the jail in 2021.
In response to the harrowing tour of conditions at Rikers and a series of reports on dangerous and chaotic conditions inside the facilities, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams urged de Blasio and Gov. Kathy Hochul to tour the jail.
“I implore the Mayor and the Governor to go to Rikers today, immediately. See what I saw, hear what I heard, and you will know the moral, human obligation using every tool available to provide disaster relief,” he said Tuesday morning in a press release. “It will not be easy — but any hesitation by leadership to act now amounts to responsibility for the consequences of inaction.”
The cascading calls for the mayor to address the crisis comes as the city’s jail population has increased in the last year, according to official data. In August, the average daily inmate population in city lockups was 5,389, compared to the 3,972 people being held in municipal jails during the same month in 2020.
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Fonrouge