Closing Rikers Island would be at the expense of CO, Borough, inmate safety

One of Rikers Islands nine correctional facilities will close this summer, beginning with the George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC). In a statement from our partner, Sean Riordan, Esq., “In the Mayor’s continual attempt to close Rikers Island he has announced the pending closure of GMDC. This closure can only be viewed as creating a greater risk to the personal safety of Correction Officers throughout Rikers Island. As attacks on officers have risen drastically in 2017, further crowding of existing facilities will create untold dangers for officers in 2018 and beyond. ‘The “re-thinking’ of the city’s jail system should not be done at the expense of officer safety.”

There are more than a couple of reasons why closing the Correction Facility would not do corrections officers, inmates, or the Boroughs any good:

1) Several Borough officials and waves of community members have come out in opposition against jails being built in the boroughs. An article linked below in The Queens Gazette notes that there was potential for a new jail that would be built within proximity to several schools in the Bronx.

2) With the expanse of over 400 acres and 9 buildings that is Rikers Island, many are saying that the proposed replacement buildings in the Boroughs could not house anywhere close to the reduction goal of 5,000 inmates. An alternative is to renovate the facilities. These same renovations were cited as reasons to close the jails, as proposed in the past by NYS Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman.

3) Downsizing has already been positively correlated to spikes in violence, according to statistics from 2017. This has to lead one to ask, what would even further downsizing do?

In the article on qgazzete.com, “Former New York State Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman led a study performed by the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform Commissioners that determined the reasons for closing Rikers Island are as follows: dilapidated buildings; lack of visitor access to the facility for inmates’ family members; significant time and resources needed to ferry individuals to and from the courts; and the lack of private, safe spaces to provide detainees with effective on-site programming.” These are all things that could take place without the displacement of inmates and Corrections Officers and the raising of new jails throughout boroughs.

With the staggering budget needed to rehouse inmates and rebuild new jails, renovations could take place, as Queens Councilmen Bob Holden suggested after a tour of Rikers according to the Queens Gazette. As cited on QNS.com, “…the combined capacity of the borough jails is estimated to be 2,300, so Holden believes the nearly $11 billion cost of renovating and expanding them would be too high.” That combined capacity is less than half of the Mayor’s reduction goal. Keeping that same budget within Rikers Island to update it would be a significantly more productive, and by all accounts safer, allocation of money and time.

An article on NY Post notes that most recently, Mayor de Blasio is suing Governor Cuomo over an order that forces an expedited closure of the Robert N. Donovan Detention Center (RNDC). Housing primarily teenagers, closing RNDC could displace them into facilities with adults, removing them from classroom settings within the RNDC. These same programs have had a proven, positive effect on inmates. Shortly after that information was released, another CO was slashed in the face; this comes just a few weeks after the orchestrated attack on Officer Jean Souffrant.

Links

NYC to Close One Jail on Rikers Island This Summer

First Rikers Island jail to close in summer as part of city’s 10-year plan to shut down the complex

Rikers Island Shutdown Meeting Draws Large Crowd

‘There are no advantages’ to closing Rikers Island, two Queens officials say at prison panel

De Blasio sues to block Cuomo from closing Rikers facility

Correction officer slashed by inmate at Rikers hours after public hearing about violence against employees

Part two; Protecting our Correction Officers

Some time ago, I wrote a post titled From Illinois to New York, Solutions for Understaffed Jails. The articles referenced in the post outlined the grave environment that jails have transformed into for inmates and correction officers. An unsafe work environment for Corrections Officers ultimately leads to poor conditions for inmates. Inmates have quick and easy access to all kinds of contraband, putting the lives of CO’s in danger. The story on such work environments has developed.

As of last year, according to COBA statistics, just about half of the stabbings & slashings at Rikers Island Department of Correction involved 18 to 21 year olds-64 out of a total of 125 for the year. This is also the same age group that has seen an end to Solitary Confinement on Rikers Island. The COBA Union and the President of COBA have been imploring the Department and the City to see what is happening to their Corrections Officers, calling the end to solitary confinement “open season on CO’s”. “We have since filed an improper practice petition against the City and the Department of Correction for violating our collective bargaining agreement when the Department unilaterally eliminated punitive segregation for 18-21 year old inmates.”, a quote in a newsletter this month from the COBA President, Elias Husamudeen. Another statistic-since January of this year, which isn’t even over, 620 NYC Correction Officers have been assaulted by inmates under 21. Husamudeen has urged for the removal of violent inmates with a repetitive history of assaulting COs to mental health facilities or another jurisdiction, one where solitary confinement is in place. The COBA President has also noted that, on the upside, a number of these repeat offenders have been rearrested. This process of rearresting repeat assailants is accompanied by other highly preventative measures, all in the name of protecting New York’s Boldest. He states that Corrections Officers need policy makers to act as quickly with CO’s as they do with police officers when it comes to punishing assailants. Their safety and protection against assaults is hindered by mandated triple-shifts, due to programs that require a staff size that is unavailable at Rikers.

The road to reform for our Correction Officers is long and winding, but must be traveled. All who protect us deserve the same from the system at hand.

From New York to Illinois, Solutions For Understaffed Jails

Teamsters Local 700 in Lake County, Illinois have stepped up for the areas overworked correctional officers. Too often are jails understaffed leaving their correctional officers working a recently mandated and regulated over time, putting themselves at more of a risk then they all ready do. Correctional officers also bear the weight of gender-specific duties. In a quote from the article from PRnewswire.com, “The female correctional officers are excessively impacted by the overtime regulation because of their specific assignments that only female officers can attend to.” This also applies in the case for male correctional officers. As much as this is a risk for the CO’s, its also a risk for the inmates-less officers on duty means a higher probability of something bad happening to either party, and both need to be protected.

This problem is also evident here in New York. At the beginning of this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio made a plan to spend more than $100 Million to improve the conditions of the Rikers Island NYC Department of Correction. This would be effective July of 2017. The push for funding was a response to a federal lawsuit that addressed violence in jails-which in turn means violence in working conditions for correctional officers, and violence in living conditions for inmates. Close to $60 million of the budget is being put to staffing the facility. It’s also not as if understaffing versus overcrowding isn’t an issue either. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and statistics do show that prisons and jails are overcrowded as well as they are understaffed.

Read the articles linked below for more information.

Union: State Prisons Dangerously Understaffed

Teamsters Local 700 Continues to Fight for Lake County Correctional Officers

Rikers Island Will Have More Officers Than Inmates Under Proposed Budget