NEW YORK (CBSNew York) – City lawmakers wanted to see Rikers Island’s problems for themselves. Concerns reached a critical point after a 10th inmate was recently found dead, with reports of increased violence against staff and a third of staff calling ill.
CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas has more on what they found.
READ MORE: Department of Corrections Commissioner unveils plans to tackle violence and rising tension on Rikers Island
It was one thing for them to hear reports of the death and dangers of inmates at Rikers Island, but it was completely different for them to see the deteriorating conditions with their own eyes.
“Women sexually assaulted and locked in cells because it’s not safe. It is scandalous, ”said Senator Allesandra Biaggi.
“The toilets are overflowing on the floor. They are crowded, 25 people in a cell without masks, ”added Alice Fontaine of Defender Services.
“I just witnessed a suicide attempt,” added MP Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas.
“Shame on us. Shame on us. Shame on all of us who are elected officials in New York,” said Senator Jessica Ramos.
READ MOREInmate found dead on Rikers Island amid calls for correctional reform
Lawmakers and lawyers couldn’t ignore what they described as horrors behind the city’s prison walls, creating a pressure cooker environment that erupted in violence and correctional officers calling in sick, with growing fears of an all-out revolt.
“Over twenty-five hours at a stretch, no lunch break. And then they wonder why we don’t come to work, why the agents are AWOL. The assaults on my limbs exploded, ”said Benny Boscio Jr., of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.
Corrections union wants thousands more officers hired, while lawmakers say district attorneys should advocate for sending fewer people to Rikers first, adding than those currently detained for violation parole with minor offenses should be released.
“It’s not a problem of understaffing. It is a problem of mass incarceration and overcrowding of people behind these bars, ”said Senator Jabari Brisport.
READ MORE: Rikers Island Employees Report Increase in Assaults on Staff; Prisoners’ representatives say they are denied their basic rights
In a rare sign of unity, the union and lawmakers point the finger at Mayor Bill de Blasio, who believes many issues will be resolved when Rikers is shut down in 2026.
“It’s been overlooked for years, so it might fall apart for this narrative to be created: ‘Oh, we have to shut down Rikers Island. “They created this mess,” Boscio said.
But something must happen immediately. Lawmakers say it’s a matter of life and death.
Lawmakers and lawyers urge Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign “Less is More” law that would not incarcerate parolees for technical offenses – such as breaking a curfew or failing a life test. drug and alcohol testing.