12th Death in Custody This Year Signals Growing Crisis in N.Y.C. Jails

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A man who was being held at a New York City jail died on Wednesday, becoming the 12th person in the city’s custody to die this year.

The man, whom authorities have not yet identified because his family has not been notified, died Wednesday morning after being held at the Vernon C. Bain center, a floating jail barge that is docked just north of the Rikers Island jail complex, where the 11 other people who have died in custody were held.

After appearing to suffer a medical problem, he was transported to Lincoln Hospital and was pronounced dead around 10:50 a.m., according to a statement from the Department of Correction.

“I am devastated to see that we have yet another death in custody and determined to stop this heartbreaking trend,” Vincent Schiraldi, the Department of Correction commissioner, said in a statement. “We are doing all we can to remedy the unprecedented crisis we are experiencing in our jails. My thoughts and prayers are with the individual’s loved ones.”

State and city leaders, lawyers and advocates for incarcerated people have widely acknowledged that the city’s jails are suffering from a staffing crisis. It has led to serious declines in basic services for those detained there, including food, water, medical and mental health care, and has caused a surge in violence. Close to 2,000 employees of the Department of Correction are absent from work on any given day.

Mitchell C. Elman, a lawyer for the man who died, was stunned to learn that a client he had just spoken to a couple of weeks ago had died.

“It is really outrageous what’s going on there,” Mr. Elman said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The conditions are deplorable. The City of New York needs to look in the mirror instead of complaining and blaming everyone else.”

Mr. Elman said that his client had been at the jail since 2019 on a pending criminal matter.

More attention has been paid to Rikers Island than to Vernon C. Bain, a floating barge that was meant to serve as a temporary solution to overcrowding when it opened in 1992 and has since become a permanent facility used to house incarcerated people in the city. There are 661 people held at the barge, a little more than a tenth of the number being held at city jails overall.

Lawyers have said that Vernon C. Bain is suffering from problems similar to those plaguing Rikers, including understaffing, which has made it difficult for those detained there to meet with their lawyers and make court appearances.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has not visited Rikers Island since June 2017, castigated correction officers who were not showing up to work and said that a union representing them had been “foundational to this problem.” He accused the union, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, of discouraging people from doing their job.

Mr. de Blasio’s remarks echoed the allegations in a lawsuit the city filed against the union earlier this week, accusing the union of supporting an illegal strike.

In oral arguments on Wednesday morning, a lawyer for the city, Eric Eichenholtz, argued that the union had not done enough to signal its disapproval of those officers who were not showing up to work.

The city withdrew its lawsuit Wednesday afternoon after a lawyer representing the union, John Burns, made a statement on the record making it clear that the union did not condone anyone failing to show up to work without permission.

“Officers who are fit for duty should show up for work as required by the law,” Mr. Burns said. “COBA has never instructed anyone not to show up for work or walk off a post or bang in sick or claim a personal emergency — when that correction officer is in fact not sick nor experiencing a personal emergency.”

In a statement, the city called that statement a “step forward to address the challenges at Rikers.” Shortly after the hearing, the union again attacked Mr. de Blasio in a statement and called upon him to visit Rikers.

Author: desi123

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