Six months after the powerful House Oversight Committee began investigating the sprawling Rikers Island complex, its chairwoman and two other members say conditions at the troubled city jail “remain unacceptable, and may be worse than previously known.”
In a letter to Mayor Eric Adams obtained by NY1, the committee members – two of them from New York – call on the city to improve detainee access to mental health treatment.
“New York City jails often lack adequate mental health services, which has contributed to unsafe conditions for detainees and staff working within the jail complex,” the three lawmakers wrote.
“At least three individuals have already died at Rikers this year, and a recent report by a federal monitor warned of the 'continued imminent risk of harm to incarcerated individuals and staff in the New York City jails,’” the letter says.
The letter, which was delivered on Friday, is signed by Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan, the chairwoman; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district includes Rikers; and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
They urge Adams to expand specialized mental health units at Rikers and also call on him to “encourage district attorneys and the courts to increase their referrals to problem-solving mental health courts and to consider alternatives to incarceration for individuals with mental illness accused of nonviolent conduct through supervised release programs with specialized support for defendants who need mental health services.”
The letter is just the latest development in the Oversight Committee’s investigation of the troubled jail complex, which began in the fall.
The “conditions raise Eighth Amendment and civil rights concerns that may need to be addressed through federal action,” they write.
The lawmakers note that nearly half of those detained at Rikers are receiving ongoing services for mental illness.
Overall, 16 people at the jail died in 2021. And the jail saw more detainee suicides last year “than in the previous five years combined.”
The letter includes praise for the new mayor’s plans to expand psychiatric bed availability in the city and to deal with mental illness on the subway.
The three lawmakers request that the mayor’s office provide the committee with a briefing on the status of Rikers and mental health services for those detained by April 22.
The Adams administration did not immediately return a request for comment.
Last fall, the same group of lawmakers requested and received a briefing from the office of then-Mayor Bill de Blasio. Maloney and Ocasio-Cortez also toured the facility.
In October, Maloney did not rule out the possibility of a public hearing about Rikers - a move which would increase public scrutiny nationally.
The committee has also requested briefings from the city’s district attorneys about what they described as “excessive bail amounts” in the city’s court system.
Separately, in September, all New York City Democrats in the U.S. House requested the Biden administration intervene at the jail complex, and asked the U.S. Department of Justice for a civil rights investigation.
A federal monitor is already overseeing Rikers.