Commission: Rikers Island, 4 upstate jails New York’s worst
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration said Wednesday it will demand quick, efficient fixes to conditions at the Rikers Island jail complex and to four upstate jails that a watchdog commission has deemed the worst local jails in the state.
Besides Rikers Island, which is run by New York City, the Commission on Correction report listed the other “worst offenders” as the Greene County Jail in Catskill, the Buffalo area’s Erie County Holding Center and Correctional Facility, the Dutchess County Jail in Poughkeepsie and the Syracuse area’s Onondaga County Justice Center and Penitentiary.
Cuomo, a Democrat, will demand a quick resolution to “systemic, unconscionable and illegal conditions” at the five jails, said his chief counsel, Alphonso David.
The Commission of Correction submitted its report to Cuomo and to the leaders of the Legislature, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat. The report identifies the five jails as “the most problematic local correctional facilities” out of the 74 the state oversees.
“These facilities pose an ongoing risk to the health and safety of staff and inmates and, in instances, impose cruel and inhumane treatment of inmates in violation of their Constitutional rights,” the commission said.
Rikers Island, in the East River between Queens and the Bronx, houses about 7,100 inmates. The sprawling complex continues to be plagued by failures in management and regulatory compliance, the commission’s report said.
The commission said it has tried to help jail management fix the issues but the ongoing problems highlight “the need for closure of all jail facilities located on Rikers Island.”
An independent commission formed after a string of brutality cases that exposed poor supervision, questionable medical care and corruption at Rikers recommended its closure. Last March, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he intended to close the complex, saying it will take a decade.
Cuomo has said that’s too long, and David called the 10-year timeline “wholly unacceptable and repugnant to federal and state constitutional principles.”
During a Manhattan news conference announcing a new plan for the city’s jail system, de Blasio, a Democrat, blasted state government for not making jail reforms that have been talked about for years.
“If the governor and the Legislature want to help us close Rikers more quickly, they have the power to do so,” he said. “And if they don’t, then it’s on them that it’s going to take longer.”
De Blasio’s comments came as he and City Council leaders announced a deal to close Rikers and spread the inmate population among smaller jails located in four of the city’s five boroughs. The plan calls for incarcerating inmates at existing jails in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens and at a new facility in the Bronx.
Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Correction also announced Wednesday that it’s launching a $4.5 million safety and security initiative aimed at addressing violence by inmates against correction officers.
The problems the commission found at the four upstate jails include inmate escapes, obsolete facilities, guard posts left unstaffed and overcrowding.
This story has been corrected to show the Rikers inmate population is 7,100, not 9,000.