Yesterday, New York City Council Members Tiffany Cabán and Sandy Nurse made an unannounced visit to Rikers Island. The visit came amid a sweltering heatwave, about which advocates have been sounding the alarm, and in the immediate wake of reporting that Dashawn Carter, one of 11 New Yorkers to die in DOC custody so far this year, missed nearly 100 clinic appointments at Rikers before dying in May.
Accompanied on her three previous visits by a Legal Aid Society attorney, CM Cabán had intended for today’s delegation to include Veronica Vela, Supervising Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project. However, the Department of Corrections refused Vela entry. Cabán spoke directly with DOC Commissioner Louis Molina, who declined to offer a reason for this change in policy.
“Rikers Island is a hellhole,” said City Council Member Tiffany Cabán. “I know. Not only have I represented hundreds upon hundreds of clients caged there, I represent it in the City Council. Neither incarcerated New Yorkers nor the jail’s staff are safe. Departmental leadership has stopped cooperating with the federal monitor and unaccountably refused to allow an expert attorney in today. The Adams Administration’s inability to improve the situation has even raised the possibility of federal receivership. It’s easy to see why: lack of cleaning supplies, lack of medical attention, constant overdoses and other health crises, New Yorker after New Yorkers languishing in Intake for day after day with no air conditioning in the middle of a severe heatwave, avoidable stabbings and other violent attacks, and generally a persistent wave of what in the outside world would be seen as an emergency taking a week or two to address inside the facility. We need a total reversal of our policy on the Island: ban solitary confinement, decarcerate, shutter and demolish the jail, and invest in the health and stability of the communities to which our incarcerated neighbors return.”
“On my second impromptu visit to Rikers this year, it’s clear that the basic health and medical needs of detainees are not being met. We continued to hear first-hand that Rikers is not meeting urgent issues like a broken arm, gashes from physical altercations, or putting individuals expressing suicidal ideations on suicide watch. In this excruciating heat wave, I was alarmed to see detainees in cells with no AC or fans in the Intake area, some reporting being like that for two weeks—wearing as little clothing as possible to avoid heat exhaustion,” said City Council Member Sandy Nurse. “We know that detained and incarcerated individuals are impacted more acutely by the climate crisis and other major public health emergencies, due to congregate settings, neglected infrastructure, and a general disregard for their lives by authority figures. We urge the Mayor and DOC to uphold the human rights of pre-trial detainees by ensuring adequate medical services, ending solitary confinement, investing in life-saving and holistic services our city so desperately needs, and shuttering Rikers once and for all.”
“Complaints include limited access to air-conditioned housing for people who are at particular risk for heat-related illness, lack of access to fans, ice, or other measures to prevent overheating. Once again, the Department’s management failures are on full display, with our clients bearing the consequences of this ineptitude. The Legal Aid Society thanks Council Member Caban for touring Rikers today and for helping to bring attention to housing conditions unacceptable for any human being,” said Veronica Vela, Supervising Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society.