RIKERS ISLAND — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the jail on Rikers Island Monday for the first time in four years, as the much-maligned facility remains in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
“This is a place that should no longer be a jail in general,” the mayor said. “It’s the same as four years ago.”
While the mayor’s assessment has not changed, critics of his administration’s handling of the situation on Rikers say conditions there have gone from bad to worse.
Many of the critics are elected officials who — after their own tour — described the facility as a humanitarian crisis.
The mayor, joined by Department of Correction officials, insisted Monday they are working to address issues regarding overworked guards and at-risk inmates.
“Triples [shifts among correction officers] are down, sick leave is down, AWOLs are down, the [inmate] population is down. And now, every living unit has programming available to them in units,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi.
What is clear is that there are two very different narratives unfolding in the aftermath of public scrutiny, inmate deaths and concerns for the safety of correction officers and others.
“The union has acted in an incredibly irresponsible manner,” the mayor said. “So today was not about speaking to the union. Today was not about talking to individual officers.”
But Benny Boscio, president of COBA, the union representing Riker’s guards, dismissed the mayor’s accusations of intentional guard sick-outs.
“So he came here to appease the media, and the pressure that other legislators put on him to come to Rikers,” Boscio said of the mayor. “He didn’t see what he needed to see today. Twelve-hundred correction officers assaulted in the past year. We’re recovering from major injuries, long term effects of COVID — this is why members are out sick.”
Alice Fontier, managing director of Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, said it’s time for everyone involved in the criminal justice system to take action now, before more lives are lost on Rikers Island.