Amid a staff shortage crisis, inmates on Rikers Island are free to attack each other, answer phones, dash down corridors, and damage maintenance devices.
According to an internal email seeking “emergency maintenance” at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, one of Rikers’ facilities, a group of convicts ran uncontrolled through the corridors and smashed fire safety equipment before authorities could restrain them on Saturday, Aug. 21.
“Numerous inmates were running through the corridors. They [sic] inmates broke the fire cabinets and numerous exit signs throughout the corridors. They also removed the hoses and nozzles from the cabinets,” an assistant deputy warden wrote in an email.
According to internal records released by The New York Post, three convicts from the Folk Nation gang attacked a Bloods member and wounded him at the Anne M. Kross Center, the jail’s largest unit, on Sunday morning, Aug. 22.
Internal communications show that at the time, 26 prison officers were working quadruple shifts, 35 were doing triple shifts, and 30 patrol locations around the AMKC were unmanned due to a staffing deficit.
According to Patrick Ferraiuolo, the Correction Captains’ Association president, the turmoil persisted on Monday, Aug. 23.
“One of my captains in AMKC called a housing area and the inmates answered the phone,” Ferraiuolo said.
The majority of people detained at Rikers and other city prisons are awaiting trial. Approximately 6,000 people are being held in the city’s detention centers; more than three-quarters have not been charged and are presumed innocent.
The head of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoner’s Rights Project, Mary Lynne Werlwas, who filed the 2011 lawsuit that resulted in the federal monitor, claimed the city’s prisons were more hazardous today than they had been in the previous 50 years.
“The city has completely lost control and as a result, people are not being protected from violence and are locked in the housing areas for days with no food, showers, access to lawyers or medical visits,” she claimed according to The New York Times.
Meanwhile, corrections officers and captains had previously staged a demonstration outside the jail, denouncing what they considered the harshest working environment in the jail’s illustrious history.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) has blamed the staffing shortfall is because 3,000 out of 8,800 employees called in ill or refused to work with prisoners in July, and claiming that “thousands more” went AWOL (absent without leave).
The organization has enacted a strict new sick rule to prevent such cases that force employees to obtain a doctor’s note before being absent. The DOC also plans to hire an extra 400 officers.
According to DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, who has been in charge of the Department of Corrections since June, triple and quadruple hours will be stopped as quickly as possible. In the meantime, free cab rides home and food for personnel doing multiple shifts will be offered.
Ferraiuolo claims that cab rides will not solve the personnel issues and that there’s a significant safety concern for both staff and convicts.
“The officers are not coming to work because they can’t,” Ferraiuolo stated. “They’re physically exhausted, that’s why they’re calling in sick and quitting on a regular basis. It’s terrible.”