Sunday, December 21, 2014

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The Call Blog: Lawmakers Target Failures At Department Of Correction

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I try not to take the news with me. When the show ends, I try to leave some of the tragedy in the newsroom. It doesn't always work. And the case of Jerome Murdough is staying with me. Where was the guard who was supposed to check on his every fifteen minutes? Where was she?

After the death of a retired Marine on Rikers Island, the City Council is looking for answers. At a hearing today at City Hall, lawmakers questioned the acting commissioner of the Department of Correction about the escalating violence in the jail system and the recent death of 56-year-old Jerome Murdough. The homeless mentally ill veteran was found dead last month in a cell that apparently accidentally overheated to more than 100 degrees.

Lawmakers are also examining why the system is imprisoning more and more mentally ill New Yorkers. About 40 percent of New York City's roughly 12,000 inmates are considered mentally ill. Mayor de Blasio called the death of Murdough "very troubling" and he's looking to make changes to the DOC when his new Commissioner Joseph Ponte begins next month. What do you want to see?

How would you describe the state of the jail system in New York City? What changes would you make to improve Rikers Island and the other detention facilities in the City? What question do you want answered in the death of inmate Jerome Murdough?

Send your thoughts using the link above.

As a member of an advocacy group JAC New York City Jails Action Coalition I would urge the three unions on Rikers Island to sit down with advocacy groups to find alternatives to solitary confinement in order to maintain control over inmates. I want changes at Rikers that not only reduces violence against inmates but I want to secure the safety of officers, through improved training and an educational requirement of an Associate degree in Criminal Justice so officers can rely on critical thinking instead of the use of force. Due to high turnover rate for officers, they receive a bonus after 5-10-20 years of service. No other union receives this benefit.


Hi John

Mentally ill people belong in a hospital because they can get the treatment they need, the DOC should have a hospital next to Rikers so the inmates cant escape.


What is there to examine? Mario Cuomo released many mentally ill people into the streets when he closed the facilities that helped them. His son, Andrew Cuomo should be able to provide some answers.

Park Hill

Hi John,

I find it appalling that this Mayor finds the tragic incident that happened causing the death of this retired Marine named Jerome Murdough on Rikers Island simply because he as many of his people now in his administration knew about these horrible conditions long before he became mayor. Why would DeBlasio wait for the newly appointed DOC to make changes when this should have been at the top of his priority list as soon as he was sworn in as Mayor. This mayor always [so far] seems to be concerned only when incidents happen or are brought to his attention.

I also question just what was the job of this temporary head of the DOC? Whomever made the decision to incarcerate the mentally ill New Yorkers was a very bad one for sure. I thought the public advocate was to oversee the mayors office. But then again that’s a thorn we will have to live with which will take years to undo and I do hope this new administration will just get a grip on things. What role does the Veterans Hospital have in these mentally ill Veterans? Why bring lawmakers to a meeting without not having qualified personnel in this particular medical field present to at least be there to answer questions. We do know that law enforcement is not qualified to take on these mentally patients and that is very understandable to all of us.

Thank you John,

Many factors contribute to the problem of the care of the mentally ill. Policy makers are ignorant of the problem . Health Professionals who are knowledgeable have no say. All what the officials care about is looking good on paper. Patients don't get the care they need. For example, the govt is busy closing hospitals after hospitals where consideration for what happens to the patients. The doctors and nurses cannot say anything because (1.) no-one will listen to them (2.). They dont want to rock the boat

Ola in the Bronx.

As a Former New York City Correction Officer who's steady post was a High Classification Mental Observation Dormatory in OBCC located on Rikers Island, I can state with first hand knowledge that there are many inmates who claim that they have Mental Health Issues just so they can help their case I.e. going into a Mental Hospital instead of a State Jail. Secondly, the department, specifically in OBCC, makes one Officer, the 1 on 1 observation officer who is suppose to observe one single inmate, observe up to 3 inmates at one time.


Every person arrested in the five borough with a mental history or taking medications are taking to the hospital immediately for psychiatric or medical clearance Correction officers and EMT decide who will go to the hospital, neither are trained to carry out this assessment. Police officers job are to arrest people who break the law. There job is not to decide mental capacity. The prisons has become the new warehouse for the mentally ill. There needs to be a sit down with everyone involved, a lot of this can be easily resolved!


The system is imprisoning more and more New Yorkers because that is the where the mentally ill are warehoused. That is now THE place where the mentally ill are treated.

What does is say about us as a society to turn our backs on an extremely vulnerable group, turn them loose onto the streets and expect them to fend for themselves? The lawmakers are irresponsibly adverse to mental institutions, on principle and they won't budge. They can't detach from the past where epileptics and people with low levels of depression were institutionalized. There is a new distinction on treatment and medication for the mentally ill, but that does not penetrate their minds. And when a terrible thing happens, they act shocked.

I personally question the mental stability and intelligence of the people in charge who:

1) instead of improving the situation, apparently because they had no idea what to do, decided to close the mental health facilities. Just because there is a low percentage of people in mental institutions does not mean that there are fewer mentally ill.

2) allow a paranoid schizophrenic, for example, to decide whether or not to take their medication: they go to prisons, or Bellevue, they're stabilized with medication, and when they leave, they throw the medication into the trash. And the revolving door is spinning and will not stop for that person.

3) allow a severely mentally ill person to decide if they get treatment even though they may have lost all grasp on reality.

Simone - Manhattan

People need to understand that one of the features of many mental illnesses is the lack of insight. So a lot of people with mental illness do NOT think they have a mental illness and do NOT think they need to get treatment, including the medication. And that is one of the reasons they end up homeless and living in the street and then getting incarcerated.

People with mental health have rights and it is extremely difficult to hospitalize someone against their will or to court order someone to take medications.

Also, people who keep complaining about NYS need to know - we have one of the best systems in the country for mental health for underprivileged populations. Trust me, I've spent a fair amount of time trying to find appropriate referrals for my patients who move out of state.

Also, there is another side of the issue: state mental health system had been getting a lot of patients with a history of violence and history of incarceration and we are NOT the best fit for this population - staff and our "regular" patients have needs for safety too. There need to be forensic facilities for individuals with history of violence, incarceration and mental illness.

Brooklyn Heights
NYS mental health professional

The police department should stop arresting our young men and sending them to prison for frivolous reasons. Branding them for life. The DOC can start thinking about creating workshops or opening technical schools for our youths to so that they can benefit society as a whole instead of one group of people.

The rockaways

First an foremost the correction dept did not encarcerate mr murdough the judicial system needs to be trained also. Correction officers have about 40 hours of mentL health training.


I believe that correctional officers need be more sensitive and have better training in dealing with clients and/or prisoners that may have mental illnesses but let's face it being more humane with this population that carries a negative stigma.


Who is accountable for this travesty of justice? A person receives a bond for trespassing at that amount? The DOC has co defendants, the Police, the Prosecutor, and definitely the Judge. An outrageous example of injustice; this stuff is going on right under our noses...


Do you not think that the Unions should be held responsible for the poor job performance by these workers? I think it would change lots of work habits if the Unions were sued. Look at prison officers, World Trade Center guards, they would be on the job rather than on the phone looking for their next break. The union protects these people, so they should therefore be held responsible, it is only fair.



We've known for years that the rates of people in jail with mental illness is enormous!!

Behaviors related to symptoms like paranoia and the fear that goes with it is not understood as coming from untreated illness. Education should be a large piece of planned change to recognize and treat mental illness, which includes learning that many mental health medications and high temperature environments are very dangerous.

This information is not new. It isn't just the DOC, our society still holds so much ignorance and fear of mental illness.

With concerted effort, the DOC can change this horrendous situation through education and training! Why is the obvious so difficult to grasp!!! IT's shocking.

Siobhan from the Upper West side


What does Commissioner Bratton have to say about arresting the homeless who seek shelter in public buildings? I haven't seen him comment on this tragic event.

Prayers for Mr. Murdough and his family.

midtown east

It is so hard to watch Correction Officers, who are all law abiding people, constantly be unfairly blamed; ridiculed; and punished, for the hard thankless work they do. But it was even harder when their president was quoted in the New York Times by Michael Schwirtz, blaming just one uniformed officer for this sad tragedy. Until something is actually done to fix this ugly practice of warehousing the mentally ill in a jail that is not equipped to do so, and continually proceeds to punish the staff that try to care for them, then New York City will just continue to run a system that heavily scapegoats, and ruins, the many innocent for failures that are not in any way their own.

Christoff M.

This problem is a national one and it's a failure of our society. mentally ill people have no where else to go for care so they end up incarcerated. also, quite a few of them are veterans. what's wrong with our society? we need to help these people, it's disgraceful.

Kew Gardens

the first bar graph shown in your report is misleading and doesn't show a "spike" in violence. (I realize that ny1 didn't prepare the graphics in this report.) The scale on the left isn't linear. If you use the actual numbers, you'll see that the increase in violence over 2 years is about 3%. Too much violence, but hardly a spike. On the other hand, incidents and complaints of guard violence are up over the same period by more than 50%. Now that's a spike.



What's happening at Rikers is shameful. Totally unacceptable. First, the guards should be interrogated and made worthy of their job. Second, prisoners who are mentally ill should be immediately moved to appropriate facilities. Third, drug laws should be repealed because they are responsible for most incarceration. Fourth, a group of counselors should be employed to help the people imprisoned at Rikers get out of jail and become valued citizens. It can be done.

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