De Blasio visits Rikers amid controversy, ‘humanitarian crisis’

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NEW YORK (PIX11) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made a rare visit to Rikers Island on Monday. Scoping out the jail for the first time in four years, he said, “This is a place that should no longer be a jail in general.”

“It’s the same as four years ago,” de Blasio says of the much-maligned facility that’s still in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. 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 that they are working to address issues regarding overworked guards and at-risk inmates.

“Triples are down, sick leave is down, AWOLs are down, the population is down,” says Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi. “Now, every living unit has programming available to them in units.”

Clearly, two very different narratives are 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 says. “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. “He came here to appease the media and the pressure that other legislators put on him to come to Rikers,” Boscio says. “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.

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