House Oversight Committiee Chair Carolyn Maloney and two congressional colleagues are raising concerns about a recently formed task force focused on improving conditions at Rikers Island, questioning whether sufficient focus is being put on the wellbeing of the detainees.
“We are concerned that there are currently no Task Force members specifically dedicated to ensuring that the mental and physical health of those detained at the facility are appropriately considered and prioritized,” the representatives wrote in a new letter sent Monday.
Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan and Queens, signed the letter with Bronx and Queens Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin. All three Democrats are members of the House Oversight Committee.
The lawmakers are requesting a briefing from the Rikers Island Interagency Task Force by July 11, seeking, they say, “to better understand how the Task Force plans to tackle this crisis, including how you plan to protect the safety, health, and rights of detainees.”
NEW: Oversight Chair @RepMaloney, @AOC, & @RepRaskin request a briefing from the #Rikers Island Interagency Task Force.— Kevin Frey (@KevinFreyTV) June 27, 2022
"We seek to better understand how the Task Force plans to tackle this crisis, including how you plan to protect the safety, health, & rights of detainees." pic.twitter.com/Xe1Ip2VevI
Mayor Eric Adams launched the task force in mid-May, focused on bringing together different parts of government to deal with the crisis at the massive jail complex.
In the letter, they note detainees are missing health appointments — often because of staffing problems.
“According to information provided by DOC and CHS at a briefing for Committee staff, detainees missed 12,700 medical appointments in March 2022. A major reason for the missed appointments was a shortage of correctional staff,” the representatives wrote.
“CHS confirmed to Committee staff that 39% of mental health appointments were incomplete, with failure to appear due to the lack of an officer escort being the most common reason,” they continued.
So far this year, eight people in custody of the city’s Department of Correction have died. Another detainee died over the weekend after a suicide attempt in a Bronx facility earlier this month. A judge gave the man compassionate release only days before he died. The DOC does not count his death in the year’s total.
Sixteen people held on Rikers Island died in 2021.
Maloney and her colleagues first launched their probe of the Rikers complex in 2021.
Earlier this year, they urged Adams to improve access to mental health treatment at NYC jails. Last fall, they 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.
A federal judge recently ruled that the city will remain in control of Rikers for at least the next few months, delaying a possible federal receivership and allowing the DOC time to implement its “action plan” to improve conditions.