Oversight Committee Requests Briefing on Deteriorating Conditions at Rikers Island

Calls for Release of Low-Level Offenders Amid Unsafe Conditions At One of Nation’s Largest Jails

September 27, 2021

Washington, D.C. (September 27, 2021)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Committee Member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sent a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Department of Corrections Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi requesting a briefing on the dangerous conditions facing staff and incarcerated individuals at the Rikers Island Correctional Facility.  Rikers Island has a history of federal civil rights violations, and the letter comes after twelve incarcerated individuals died this year while in custody at Rikers.   

“There have been multiple reports of the collapse of basic jail operations, in part as the result of widespread staffing shortages within the New York City Department of Corrections (DOC).  These shortages—caused by the coronavirus pandemic as well as persistent overcrowding and mounting violence—have rendered the facility unsafe for individuals who are incarcerated and for DOC staff.  These unacceptable conditions at one of the largest jails in the United States appear to be part of a longstanding pattern of civil and human rights violations on Rikers Island. The number of in-custody deaths on Rikers Island has more than quadrupled over the past two years—from three deaths in 2019 to twelve in 2021,”  the Members wrote.  

Public reports and firsthand accounts have revealed that detainees have been denied food, water, medical care, and other necessities at Rikers Island.  Overcrowding at the facility has reportedly made adherence to coronavirus protocols nearly impossible, posing serious health and safety concerns to correctional staff and incarcerated individuals. 

In their letter, the Members also raised concerns that a longstanding shortage of correctional staff has forced many to work long shifts, posing a danger to themselves and the individuals they are required to supervise.  The letter explained that “in August, an average of nearly 1,500 corrections officers—or nearly 20% of the workforce—failed to report to work on a daily basis.   By September, nearly one-third of DOC’s total workforce was unavailable for work or unable to work with detainees due to medical restrictions.” 

Today’s letter requests a briefing by October 4, 2021. 

Click here to read the letter.