Rikers Island inmate calls radio show to talk about horrific conditions

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This file photo from January 28, 2016 shows a solitary confinement cell called "bing," at Rikers Island prison in New York.

This file photo from January 28, 2016 shows a solitary confinement cell called “the bing” at Rikers Island prison in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

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A man who says he is currently incarcerated at Rikers Island, New York, called a local radio show to talk about deteriorating conditions in recent months: declining supplies and cleanliness, lack of medical care and the constant threat of COVID-19.

“The only way to get a doctor’s appointment is to lie on the floor, and they have to pick you up on a stretcher. And they take their time picking you up on a stretcher,” Nathaniel, who has been incarcerated in the jail since January, told Brian Lehrer on his morning show at the WNYC on Tuesday.

“We had twice in nine months to have our laundry changed,” he added.

Nathaniel’s call to Lehrer’s show comes as Rikers’ issues have escalated from a local issue to one that national leaders in Washington, D.C., have begun to notice: They’re asking city leaders about what they did to fix the issue which has been going on for months and should be held accountable.

Since the start of 2021, Rikers has struggled with a series of issues. COVID-19 has so far infected nearly 2,300 employees of the city’s Department of Corrections and created a severe staffing shortage. At times during the summer, Rikers had as many as 2,000 employees calling in sick in a single day, according to the New York Times, although the DOC suspects that many of those employees were using the unlimited sick days available to them. were granted as holidays. .

These staffing shortages severely hampered the prison’s ability to process new inmates and provide them with necessary medical examinations, clothing, and placements in the facility. In some cases, processing procedures that took no longer than 24 hours have become ordeals of several weeks.

Even basic necessities such as food, water and medical care, as well as PPE to prevent the spread of COVID-19, have become scarce. A total of 12 inmates died at the facility, several by suicide, due to the negligence of prison guards and the increasing atrocious conditions.

“We’ve been locked up in this house three times because of COVID,” Nathanial said on the radio Tuesday.

Nathaniel told Lehrer that the prison continues to try to treat more inmates, increasing the risk of COVID-19, even though prison staff have done little to treat those who are infected.

“I haven’t been on sick leave in over a month,” Nathaniel said, referring to medical appointments inmates are supposed to receive within a reasonable time frame if they request them.

Cleanliness and hygiene at the prison also deteriorated. Soap is rarely available, trash is strewn throughout the facility, non-functioning plumbing has forced inmates to defecate and urinate in bags provided by guards, and parasites and vermin have infested drains and cells. , according to outlets like CBS News and The Intercept. Earlier this month, a federal observer reported that the prison was in a “state of emergency” and would require outside intervention to properly address its ongoing issues.

Nathaniel told Lehrer that he was locked up in Rikers after running from an off duty armed cop not knowing he was law enforcement. The off-duty cop allegedly injured himself while chasing him and Nathaniel was charged with assault as a result.

“I didn’t know he was an officer. It was 4am, and all I knew was someone pulled out a gun and I ran,” the live caller explained.

Now Nathaniel can’t post his $10,000 bond. (Judges and city prosecutors have continued to commit people to pretrial detention despite deteriorating conditions, even though the defendant faces charges related to less serious crimes.)

Several New York members of the House of Representatives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, demanded that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Governor Kathy Hochul are stepping in to address what they call an “inhumane and unconstitutional” public health crisis.

“We, along with U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velazquez, strongly believe that Rikers should be kicked out and shut down immediately,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last week.

Others called on President Joe Biden and members of his administration to intervene.

Governor Hochul, who had just taken office a few weeks, signed an executive order authorizing virtual hearings. She also signed a law allowing some detainees to be held in public facilities or released completely for less serious crimes.

But de Blasio’s handling of the crisis at Rikers has infuriated local leaders and prison reform advocates, with some calling his recently unveiled five-point plan to address the issues ‘thoughtless’, according to The New York Times. .

After weeks of public criticism over his failure to act, de Blasio finally visited Rikers for the first time since 2017, but apparently did not speak to any guards or inmates during his visit, according to the New York Post. When asked by reporters which part of the tour upset him the most, he didn’t specify any of the issues he saw that he wanted to address.

That’s why Benny Boscio Jr., president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, told reporters outside the jail during the mayor’s visit that De Blasio had made a “sugar coated” visit, according to the local media The City.

Nathaniel said the same thing to Lehrer on Tuesday.

“The conditions in which the mayor came here yesterday, he did not come to the part where we live,” he said. “He came to the part where they were just painting and trying to make it look good for the cameras.”

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