New York City’s notorious Rikers Island Jail is in a constant state of chaos due to violence and inadequate staffing, the New York Times reported.
Recent turmoil included six incarcerated deaths, charges of criminally negligent homicide against a captain, and the accidental release of an alleged murderer, the Times reported June 19.
The tidal wave of violence erupted as officers were exhausted while working triple and quadruple shifts. Staff shortages triggered lockdowns at other jail facilities in the city.
“The pervasive level of disorder and chaos in the facilities is alarming,” said Steve J. Martin, the federal monitor and national corrections expert appointed to oversee the struggling jail system.
“Issues plaguing the department are systemic and deep-seated and have been passed down and accepted by all levels of staff across the agency.”
Martin also noted that the staff’s use of force rate was at a five-year high.
More than a year after the coronavirus struck the New York City jail system and sickened thousands, the Department of Corrections nose-dived into a crisis of mismanagement, deaths and violence, the Times reported.
The jail system came under fire following a report in March by the New York Daily News, which claimed more than 1,500 phone calls between defendants and their lawyers had been illegally recorded.
In August several correction officers and other staff faced charges for taking bribes to smuggle contraband into city jails, the Daily News reported.
Interviewed guards described being too exhausted to break up fights or complete necessary paperwork. Some officers said longer hours have led to short-fused tempers and irritability when dealing with prisoners.
Jail officials said that up to 2,000 officers — more than 20% of the workforce — were out sick or unable to work and staff morale remains low.
Inadequate staffing forced the incarcerated residents to miss meetings with attorneys and have restricted access to basic services like canteen, law library, medical and mental healthcare, the newspapers noted.
“I can assure you we’ve taken all measures to ensure that we are safely staffed and operations go on,” said former jail commissioner Cynthia Brann, who stepped down in May.
Attempted suicides and instances of self-harm have also been on the rise in the city jails. In March, 148 incarcerated people harmed themselves — 12 with serious injuries, according to Correctional Health Services data.
Response to suicide attempts has been lax due to the absence of proper staff training. The department said that, as of May, only 10% of the city’s more than 9,000 officers and their supervisors had received a required course in suicide prevention training.
Highlighting the issue, Manhattan prosecutors in April charged correctional Capt. Rebecca Hillman with criminally negligent homicide after they said she left Ryan Wilson hanging in a cell for 15 minutes last November and allegedly stopped another officer from helping him.
Tomas Carlos Camacho, 48, was in a mental health observation unit on Rikers in March when he was found unresponsive and on his knees with his head through the handcuffing slot in his cell door.
Camacho died at a hospital after he was granted compassionate release from the jail.
A lawyer for the family said Camacho should have been kept under constant surveillance.
Camacho’s son, Kevin Carlo, said his father suffered from schizophrenia.
“He was a God-fearing man,” said Carlo. “He had two kids and grandkids who love him. We just want answers. We want somebody to take responsibility.”