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Rally Calls for Safety Improvements for Rikers Workers as DOC Announces New Measures

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TWC News: Rally Calls for Safety Improvements for Rikers Workers as DOC Announces New Measures
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In response to a call for safety improvements at Rikers Island, the Department of Correction says it's putting new measures in place to ensure staff security in city jails. NY1's Polly Kreisman filed the following report.

At almost the same time that unionized medical workers at Rikers Island were rallying for safer working conditions, the city's Department of Correction announced new measures to protect staff both at Rikers and other DOC facilities.

Immediate measures include the relocation of the Rikers psychiatric clinic to a more open and secure area, the re-positioning of Rikers staff to increase coverage of dangerous spots, a review of safety protocols highlighted by staff, increased communication between health and DOC staff, and safety seminars by wardens for civilian workers.

These reforms came following some violent attacks on staff members. One graphic video shows a medical intern being attacked by an inmate, one of four incidents believed to have involved inmates with mental health issues in the last month.

"If a sister or a brother, regardless who it is, if they are attacked, that's an attack on me because it just as well could have been me," said Gwendolyn Watson, a registered nurse.

Doctors active with the union say they need more staff to deal with cases like these.

"A lot of times, you have mentally ill, you have aggressive patients being cooped up in a room waiting to see one doctor," said Dr. Frank Proscia, president of Doctors Council SEIU. "If there were more doctors, more staff to see them, those waiting times would dissipate immediately."

This is a first test for the city's new correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, who has already been confronted with what has been reported as a hit list, with names of correction officers and staffers who gang members inside the jail are supposedly targeting. The DOC says it's investigating.

Ponte is said to have overhauled mental health at previous facilities where he's previously worked in Maine, Massachusetts and Tennessee. Some of the measures announced Wednesday have already been implemented.

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