Washington, D.C. (June 27, 2022)— Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Committee Member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent a letter to Brendan McGuire, Chief Counsel for Rikers Island Interagency Task Force at New York City Hall, and Phillip Banks, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety at New York City Hall, requesting a briefing on the efforts by the Rikers Island Interagency Task Force to improve conditions at Rikers Island, protect detainees and staff, and ensure detained individuals receive the mental health services they need. Mayor Eric Adams established the Rikers Island Interagency Task Force on May 12, 2022, in response to deteriorating conditions at Rikers.
“We are committed to working with the Task Force to find solutions to alleviate the inhumane conditions at Rikers that endanger the health and safety of the approximately 5,500 detainees and nearly 8,000 correctional officers who work there, while also addressing public safety concerns in New York City,” the Members wrote.
The Members’ letter sought to better understand how the Task Force plans to tackle this crisis, including how it plans to protect the safety, health, and rights of detainees given the lack of detainee advocates on the Task Force. The Members urged the Task Force to prioritize the physical health, mental health, and safety of both detainees and staff when implementing solutions to Rikers’ multifaceted problems.
“There are currently 5,503 detainees on Rikers, a nearly 30% increase from April 2020. Last year, 15 detainees died at Rikers, more than twice the number of people from the previous year,” the Members wrote. “The number of suicides in 2021 alone was more than the previous five years combined. This year, nine individuals have already died while incarcerated at Rikers—three more than had died at this point last year—and one correctional officer has committed suicide. These deaths highlight the unsafe and harmful conditions for detainees and staff working within the jail complex, and underscore the urgent need for action.”
The Members also encouraged the Task Force to focus on addressing staff absenteeism and improving detainee access to medical care, including access to treatment for mental illness. According to information provided by the New York City Departments of Corrections and Correctional Health Services during a Committee briefing, 39% of mental health appointments were incomplete and detainees missed 12,700 medical appoints in March 2022, due in part to a shortage of correctional staff.
On September 27, 2021, Chairwoman Maloney, Chairman Raskin, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez launched an investigation into deteriorating conditions at Rikers Island.
On April 8, 2022, the Members wrote to Mayor Adams to urge him to support the needs of the detainees at Rikers Island experiencing mental illness and ensure they are able to access the treatment services they need.
On May 12, 2022, Mayor Adams established the Task Force, and on June 14, a federal court approved New York City’s plan to address the crisis at Rikers. Today’s letter requests a briefing from the Task Force by July 11, 2022.
Click here to read the letter.