Monday, September 20, 2021

New NY governor takes on Rikers Island and parole violations

Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered the release of nearly 200 detainees from New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, underscoring the growing alarm about violence and unbridled disorder at the notorious facility, reported the New York Times.

Ms. Hochul’s move came amid increasing calls for federal or state intervention at the city-run jail, which officials and detainees say has plunged into chaos — Ms. Hochul described it as a “pressure cooker” — and is rife with health and safety risks for inmates and employees alike. Ten detainees have died there since December, including several from suicide.

But the plan will not significantly reduce overcrowding, and it may do little to address two continuing crises at Rikers, one rooted in an acute staff shortage at the complex, the other in an increase in coronavirus cases there in recent weeks.

In addition to the release of the 191 detainees she announced Friday, Ms. Hochul also said she would transfer 200 others to state prisons in the coming days. Even with those moves, Rikers will be far more crowded than it was in spring 2020, when a wave of releases during the pandemic lowered the population below 4,000. On Friday, more than 6,000 people, the vast majority of them awaiting trial, were being held there.

Hochul that seeks to reduce jail populations by ending the practice of incarcerating people who commit certain technical parole violations.

But the law does not tackle what a court-appointed federal monitor has described as the widespread absenteeism among correction officers that has contributed to a deterioration of security and health conditions at the complex. With hundreds or thousands of guards not showing up to work daily, officials and detainees alike say that basic jail functions have ground to a halt: Gangs patrol hallways, detainees are held in showers repurposed as stalls and some incarcerated people are going without water, food or medical care for days.

On Friday, some local officials suggested that the federal authorities might seek to wrest control of the crisis from the city. Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, urged the monitor to ask a federal judge to order authorities to increase staffing levels. The monitor was appointed in 2015 under a settlement between the city and the Justice Department that was meant to resolve a class-action civil rights lawsuit that detailed abuses at Rikers.

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