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Council Members Grill City Agencies Following Rikers Incidents

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City lawmakers take the Departments of Correction and Health to task after a series of violent attacks on jail employees. Criminal Justice Reporter Dean Meminger filed a report after attending a City Council hearing on the matter.

City Council members are demanding answers and changes in the jail system especially on Rikers Island, which has about 11,000 people held there each day.

A rise in violent attacks by inmates on correction officers and medical staff like this incident earlier this year on a volunteer has council members saying there's a need for change and more correction officers behind bars, as well as better facilities to place violent inmates.

"Two or three weeks ago when a correction officer got their head beaten in, it was by somebody who had a mental health diagnosis who had committed infractions and was on the waiting list,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley.

The Commissioners for the Department of Correction and the department of health were on the hot seat. There were 25 assaults on staff members who were not officers last year. This year already there have been 32 assaults. Most of the attackers have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness.

"Two thirds of these assaults are what are known as splashings. Splashing the worker either a correction officer or health care worker with a liquid. Sometimes water, sometimes urine,” said DOH Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett.

The Correction Commissioner says more training is underway.

"The new training includes an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders. Introduces participates to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems,” said Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte.

Inmates are typically held on Rikers island, not because they've been found guilty of a crime, but because they are waiting for a trial. 80 percent of them couldn't afford to post a bail."

"What I am concerned with is that Rikers is the mental health facility of last resort and that people are simple getting there because of financial circumstance of not being able to make bail,” said Councilman Andrew Cohen of the Bronx.

The correction union president testified, saying the mentally ill shouldn't be housed on Rikers at all, because it's not suitable for them or safe for officers.

He also says some gang members are faking illness to avoid getting punished for violence, all difficult issues a task force is supposed to tackle over the coming months.

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