State officials need to pay more attention to Rikers Island


Matt Green | Flickr

Stacy Kim

Left unguarded, the Rikers Island jail complex has many troubles that call for an immediate response from the government.

Following the death of inmate Isaabdul Karim, the 11th this year, four members of Congress demanded for the immediate release of inmates and for Rikers Island to be closed.

Karim, who had been jailed for marijuana use and failing to make an official report, was “denied access to his medications and critical medical care” while he contracted COVID-19, Tina Luongo, head of the criminal defense practice at Legal Aid, said.

Although the The Office of Chief Medical Examiner has yet to determine the cause of his death, Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said the death “appears to be natural.”

Rikers Island, notorious for its working conditions for prison guards and living conditions for prisoners, has a host of problems — such as staff shortages, violence and mental health issues among prisoners.

The Congress members also reported “overflowing toilets and floors covered in dead cockroaches, feces and rotting food,”according to AP News,

Of the 12 inmates at Rikers Island who died in the past year, at least five of them have been reported to have committed suicide.

Both New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged the need to improve jail conditions.

Hochul’s press secretary, Hazel Crampton-Hays, said that Hochul “took swift action to release hundreds of people incarcerated in Rikers and improve justice and safety.”

Hochul ordered the release of 191 detainees and signed the Less is More Act into law to prevent prisoners from being incarcerated on technical violations on Sept. 17.

“No one,no inmate, no correction officer, no family member who visits,should have to witness the reality of Rikers as it exists today,” Hochul said.

De Blasio also took action by promising to hire private security guards to make up for the staff shortages.

“It’s going to provide a lot of relief and a lot of ability for Commissioner Schiraldi to get officers where he needs them most to speed things up in Rikers and improve conditions,” he said, according to New York Daily News.

His decision to bring in private security drew criticism.

Benny Boscio, the current president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, called the mayor’s proposal “illegal.”

“This is de Blasio attempting to cover up years of intentional neglect, failing to hire any [jailers] and leaving Rikers to rot until it closes,” Boscio said.

On account of a law enacted in 2002 that prevents city jails from transferring their duties to private entities, de Blasio’s resolution is beyond a doubt illegal.

Rikers Island should not be given to “the barbaric hands of privately run prisons,” as Boscio said.

De Blasio will be leaving the office in four months, which means the next mayor has to take care of Rikers.

The work of reviving the city’s jail system should not be in the hands of the private companies, but under the government’s care.