Plexiglas knives and bags of drugs were pinned to large boards in an old jail facility on Rikers Island. It was a fitting backdrop for Mayor Eric Adams' first press conference on Rikers Island – he was touting the more than 2,700 weapons and other contraband have been recovered during search operations within the island's jails since February.
But the visit also gave the mayor the opportunity to send a clear message to the department's officers: "I am not ashamed of you. I am proud of you. Keep doing the job you are doing."
What You Need To Know
- Mayor Eric Adams visited Rikers Island Wednesday and expressed his support for correction officers
- Staffers have confiscated more than 2,700 weapons and other “contraband” from inmates on Rikers Island since the end of February, officials say
- Two detainees died in DOC custody this week
For months, correction officers have been criticized for calling out sick in large numbers. Despite that, the mayor was on Rikers to boost morale among the rank and file.
That included criticizing the City Council for not agreeing to hire more officers earlier this month during budget negotiations.
"So they are actually hurting some of the initiatives Commissioner Molina is trying to do to create the release of inmates so they'll be prepared to be active citizens," the mayor said on Wednesday.
The mayor told his correction officers, “I am not ashamed of you. I am proud of you.” About 900 officers are still calling out sick every day. At one point that number was as high as 2000.— Courtney Gross (@courtneycgross) June 22, 2022
Benny Boscio, the head of the correction officers' union, was in the room applauding the mayor's support.
"Shame on the City Council for not approving these officers,” Boscio said. “They talk a good game, but we keep New York City safe."
The visit comes after two detainees died in custody in a 48-hour period this week, bringing the death toll of people in DOC custody to eight in 2022. Another detainee died over the weekend after a suicide attempt in a Bronx holding pen earlier this month. It was just days earlier that detainee was issued compassionate release by a judge. The DOC is not counting the man's death in their total.
In 2021, 16 detainees died.
Asked about the deaths, the mayor deflected blame away from the department.
"By the time people reach Rikers, their health has deteriorated and they come to these facilities,” the mayor said. “Let's find out, why did they die? Rikers didn’t give them heart disease, if that is the reason they died."
Slashings and stabbings at the facility have dropped by 63% since March, according to a release from the mayor's office.
The complex also saw 30% fewer attacks on staff members that resulted in a “use of force” in the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year, the release said.
“Use-of-force incidents” recorded in the first half of the year, meanwhile, fell 27% year over year, the release added.
Adams and Molina’s announcement came a week after a federal judge signed off on the city’s plan to reform the jail facility, which has been plagued by myriad issues, including a staffing crisis stemming in part from attacks on correction officers and a spate of inmate deaths.
The judge’s endorsement allowed the complex to temporarily avoid a potential federal takeover.
A federal monitor overseeing the facility as part of a class-action settlement with the city wrote a letter to the court earlier this month saying that “serious concerns remain[ed]” regarding the DOC’s ability to “address the danger, violence and chaos that continue to occur daily.”
In the last year-and-a-half, there have been multiple suicides and drug overdoses. And some have questioned whether there was adequate supervision from officers.
"The mayor's visit was just to show support to correction officers," said Melissa Vergara, who has a son on Rikers.
"We never address the violence that comes from the other end,” she added. “Maybe the mayor should take time to discuss those issues with family members and with those that are incarcerated instead of just coming in and already choosing a side."