Rikers report calls 2021 most dangerous year amid escalating prison violence – Bronx Times

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This article was originally published to through THE CITY

An inmate assaulted a city correctional officer who fell asleep after doing double duty. Eleven men in Rikers fought between gangs after the doors of two apartments were not secured. Correctional officers pelted the inmates with racist slurs and pepper spray.

These are just a few examples of a “system teeming with violence and disorder,” according to the latest report from a federal observer overseeing the Corrections Department.

“Data on the use of force, fights, stabs and cuts among those in police custody and assaults on staff show that 2021 has been the most dangerous year” since the Monitor started overseeing local jails in 2015, scathing him 152-page report find.

The report comes as some argue that the court-mandated surveillance, led by Austin, TX-based monitor Steve Martin, has done little or nothing to improve conditions on Rikers Island, which has fallen into dire straits. new levels of chaos in recent months.

Elizabeth Glazer, director of the mayor’s office of criminal justice from 2014 to 2020, recently said THE CITY that a federal receiver, with emergency powers to make unilateral decisions, should take over the department.

After locally elected officials visited Rikers Island in September amid a spike in deaths behind bars, some called Governor Kathy Hochul and even President Joe Biden to intervene.

In search of information

In his 12th report since 2015, Martin stressed the importance of looking beyond grim statistics.

“Just because something can be quantified does not mean that it is useful for understanding or evaluating progress,” he said. “The trick is to identify the metrics that really provide insight into the department’s processes and outcomes and that are useful for the problem-solving task. “

For example, there is no figure that could determine whether the ministry Use of Force Directive 2015, banning blows to the head, is working to curb attacks by officers against detainees, according to Martin’s latest dispatch.

Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY Correctional officers screen visitors to Rikers Island, July 1, 2021.

The report mainly covers the first six months of 2021, when prison guards struggled to get officers to show up for work. Some 1,600 agents called the sick and another 100 did not show up on any given day last summer.

Among the causes cited by the report for the understaffing: the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with unlimited sick pay for agents. The report also cited “patchy” monitoring to verify whether someone is legitimately unable to work, and “lack of accountability” for staff who abuse the leave policy.

Martin’s monitoring team hired an “independent correctional staffing expert” to analyze how and where officers are deployed.

The Correction Officers Benevolent Association argued the city should hire 2,000 more officers, bringing the system’s total to around 10,000. Some 5,434 people were in jail as of Monday.

But Martin and former prison commissioners point out that hundreds of officers are assigned to administrative tasks such as data entry, secretarial work, time management, social services and analysis.

“The department has an extraordinary number of employees on its payroll, many of whom are deemed unavailable for work or assigned to non-custodial duties,” the report said.

Swing first

As for the violence, Martin – also known as Monitor Nunez, named after the lead plaintiff in the original class action which spurred the monitoring deal – city correctional officers said too often used their batons as a crutch.

He acknowledged that the so-called use of force by officers “will inherently occur in all prisons” to protect both staff and inmates “from serious harm”.

“However, in this department the use of force is almost inevitable to resolve any problem and therefore occurs too frequently, and without the necessary attempts to resolve the situation without resorting to physical force,” the report said.

Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY A prison reform advocate at a rally outside Rikers Island, September 13, 2021.

The latest use of force rate was more than three times that of 2016, according to the report. The rate fell from 3.96 per 100 inmates six years ago to 12.56 in the first six months of 2021, according to Martin.

“The department is in crisis,” wrote the federal monitor. “Adequate oversight and accountability is a critical foundation for effective leadership. At the moment, both are sorely lacking.

The Legal Aid Society said the report “backs up” what people behind bars say to its staff every day:, group director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project.

Attacked personnel

While primarily focused on the first half of the year, the Observer’s report also noted that there were 2,113 assaults on staff between January and September 2021.

“This translates to nearly eight assaults on staff per day over the 273-day period,” the report said, adding that the risk of attack “is both frightening and stressful for staff.”

However, some of the attacks were “generated by gratuitous and / or brutal conduct of the staff which unnecessarily aggravates the meetings”, according to Martin’s dispatch.

The inflammatory behavior included “the inappropriate use of racist slurs or provocative / profane language, questionable applications of [pepper] spraying, and overly aggressive behavior that is not commensurate with the actual threat posed by the individual.

Some of the assaults on officers also occurred as officers attempted to restrain inmates, the report notes.

In response to the report, the city’s corrections department touted more recent data showing improvement.

Over the past five months, from July to November, rates of use of force by correctional staff have decreased by 11%, rates of fights among incarcerated persons have decreased by 19%, and the rate of assault on the prisoner has fallen by 19%. staff fell 12%, according to Shayla Mulzac, a spokesperson for the Correctional Service.

“We are not proclaiming any victory,” DOC commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said in a statement. “But we hope these favorable numbers are the first indicators of a positive trend that we can build on to create a better future for staff and those in prison.”

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