Rik­ers Is­land, 4 up­state jails New York’s worst

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Nation + World - By Chris Carola

AL­BANY, N.Y. » Gov. An­drew Cuomo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion said Wed­nes­day it will de­mand quick, ef­fi­cient fixes to con­di­tions at the Rik­ers Is­land jail com­plex and to four up­state jails that a watch­dog com­mis­sion has deemed the worst lo­cal jails in the state.

Be­sides Rik­ers Is­land, which is run by New York City, the Com­mis­sion on Cor­rec­tion re­port listed the other “worst of­fend­ers” as the Greene County Jail in Catskill, the Buf­falo area’s Erie County Hold­ing Cen­ter and Cor­rec­tional Fa­cil­ity, the Dutchess County Jail in Pough­keep­sie and the Syra­cuse area’s Onondaga County Jus­tice Cen­ter and Pen­i­ten­tiary.

Cuomo, a Demo­crat, will de­mand a quick res­o­lu­tion to “sys­temic, un­con­scionable and il­le­gal con­di­tions” at the five jails, said his chief coun­sel, Alphonso David.

The Com­mis­sion of Cor­rec­tion sub­mit­ted its re­port to Cuomo and to the lead­ers of the Leg­is­la­ture, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader John Flanagan, a Long Is­land Repub­li­can, and Assem­bly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Demo­crat. The re­port iden­ti­fies the five jails as “the most prob­lem­atic lo­cal cor­rec­tional fa­cili- ties” out of the 74 the state over­sees.

“Th­ese fa­cil­i­ties pose an on­go­ing risk to the health and safety of staff and in­mates and, in in­stances, im­pose cruel and in­hu­mane treat­ment of in­mates in vi­o­la­tion of their Con­sti­tu­tional rights,” the com­mis­sion said.

Rik­ers Is­land, in the East River be­tween Queens and the Bronx, houses about 7,100 in­mates. The sprawl­ing com­plex con­tin­ues to be plagued by fail­ures in man­age­ment and reg­u­la­tory com­pli­ance, the com­mis­sion’s re­port said.

The com­mis­sion said it has tried to help jail man­age­ment fix the is­sues but the on­go­ing prob­lems high­light “the need for clo­sure of all jail fa­cil­i­ties lo­cated on Rik­ers Is­land.”

An in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion formed af­ter a string of bru­tal­ity cases that ex­posed poor su­per­vi­sion, ques­tion­able med­i­cal care and cor­rup­tion at Rik­ers rec­om­mended its clo­sure. Last March, New York City Mayor Bill de Bla­sio said he in­tended to close the com­plex, say­ing it will take a decade.

Cuomo has said that’s too long, and David called the 10-year time­line “wholly un­ac­cept­able and re­pug­nant to fed­eral and state con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples.”

Dur­ing a Man­hat­tan news con­fer­ence an­nounc­ing a new plan for the city’s jail sys­tem, de Bla­sio, a Demo­crat, blasted state gov­ern­ment for not mak­ing jail re­forms that have been talked about for years.

“If the gover­nor and the Leg­is­la­ture want to help us close Rik­ers more quickly, they have the power to do so,” he said. “And if they don’t, then it’s on them that it’s go­ing to take longer.”

De Bla­sio’s com­ments came as he and City Coun­cil lead­ers an­nounced a deal to close Rik­ers and spread the in­mate pop­u­la­tion among smaller jails lo­cated in four of the city’s five bor­oughs. The plan calls for in­car­cer­at­ing in- mates at ex­ist­ing jails in Man­hat­tan, Brook­lyn and Queens and at a new fa­cil­ity in the Bronx.

Mean­while, the city’s Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tion also an­nounced Wed­nes­day that it’s launch­ing a $4.5 mil­lion safety and se­cu­rity ini­tia­tive aimed at ad­dress­ing vi­o­lence by in­mates against cor­rec­tion of­fi­cers.

The prob­lems the com­mis­sion found at the four up­state jails in­clude in­mate es­capes, ob­so­lete fa­cil­i­ties, guard posts left un­staffed and over­crowd­ing.

This story has been cor­rected to show the Rik­ers in­mate pop­u­la­tion is 7,100, not 9,000.

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