NEW YORK (PIX11) — Amid ongoing overcrowding, violence, and staffing issues at Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan Tuesday aimed at fixing the issues. Gov. Kathy Hochul said that even though it’s city-run, the problems at the much-maligned facility could rise to the level of state intervention.
De Blasio, who has only months left in office, said the new plan deals with what many are calling a humanitarian crisis. The mayor said the plan would use emergency orders to make “very intense changes in the situation.” Meanwhile, the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association (COBA) says they were never consulted about the plan for the “sinking ship” facility.
Rikers has been plagued for years by issues, including high-profile assaults and suicides. These prompted de Blasio at one point to push a plan to closing plan that opened several smaller jails in each borough.
“It’s very volatile,” Hochul said. “I’m very disturbed by what’s going on there. I understand it’s a city operation, but we also want to make sure that we leave no stone unturned to find out what we can do to help this situation.
As part of the new plan, “We’re going to be bringing in additional help from a crucial sister agency—the NYPD—to help with certain discreet functions that will take pressure off the Department of Corrections,” de Blasio said. “We need to do some things very, very differently.”
Components of the Emergency Rikers Relief Plan include:
- Emergency contracting
- Shift court staffing
- Accountability for AWOL DOC staff
- Expand Medical Evaluation capacity
- Speed up intake to reduce crowding
Under the plan, correction officers who fail to show up to work without explanation will be issued a 30-day suspension without pay, according to the mayor. De Blasio has also called for the Less is More bill to be passed. “We want to make sure the system is working,” he said.
The announcement about the plan came after lawmakers toured the Queens facility, observing conditions to be “inhumane” and “torturous.” Yet, according to COBA, the union representing corrections officers, the plan does not fully address understaffing problems.
COBA president Benny Boscio Jr. says the union was not part of the mayor’s plan and was only notified about it after the announcement. He called the plan a “knee-jerk reaction,” saying it wouldn’t work because of training differences between forces, so it would actually delay the court system.
Boscio also said that there are only a few hundred officers in the courts. In the plan, the NYPD would replace correction officers in court, letting those officers support staffing issues at Rikers Island. He said the plan ultimately doesn’t offer much help to Rikers.
“It’s a sinking ship,” Boscio said, adding that there have been about 1,300 resignations since January 2019. He said that many officers work 25-hour shifts, leading to exhaustion, and that many do not get paid for working that overtime.
Boscio criticized the part of the plan that issues a 30-day suspension for officers who call out of work without a doctor’s note or don’t show up. “Officers are fed up,” he said, arguing that it would just force more officers to work more shifts.
“We’re suffering, we need help,” Boscio said. He clarified the union is “all for reform, but it can’t be one-sided.”