Governor Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that women and transgender people held at the Rikers Island prison complex will be moved to two state prisons 40 miles north of New York City, in the latest effort to stem from a crisis that has engulfed the correction system.
The move, which begins Monday, aims to address a staffing shortage – about one in three jailers fail to show up for work – by allowing the city to post guards from the women’s units in other more chaotic parts of the complex. .
It comes as pressure mounts on state and federal officials to intervene as the city struggles to restore order to Rikers, its largest prison complex, which has fallen into a state of danger. and despair.
The transfers could allow women who did not receive medical and mental health care in Rikers amid a shutdown of such services during the pandemic to access such care in state prisons. But it could also make it more difficult for inmates – the majority of whom are awaiting trial – to attend court hearings and meet lawyers and their family members who will now be at least an hour’s drive from Manhattan. .
“Their daily life in prison will be better,” said Zachary Katznelson, executive director of the Independent Commission on Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform for New York City, a research and advocacy organization. “But settling cases and having access to family and lawyers will be more difficult. It must be a short-term move. “
Tina Luongo, the lawyer in charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense practice, called the move a “bad idea”, saying de Blasio was waiving his responsibility to solve the problems plaguing Rikers at the expense inmates. “It’s not going to help the personnel issues,” Mx said. Luongo, who added that transgender women, in particular, have support in Rikers that does not exist in state prisons, including guard training linked to the LGBTQ community and better access to medical care. affirming the genre.
Despite the understaffing, the Department of Corrections said it will provide daily transportation from New York to state prisons for inmates’ family members.
In a statement on Wednesday, Ms Hochul said the transfers, which will occur at a rate of about 20 per week, would make the Rikers prison compound safer until the city “can identify and put implement a permanent solution that will do justice to the situation. at Rikers.
Approximately 230 people will be moved from the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island – an 800-bed facility for women and transgender people – to Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and nearby Taconic Correctional Facility, potentially freeing hundreds guards to work understaffed. and unmanned housing areas throughout Rikers, according to the announcement from the mayor and governor and someone familiar with the plan.
Last month, more than a third of all prison officers reported sick or simply did not show up for work. The result was an increasingly dangerous situation for the guards and the incarcerated people. In some prisons, inmates have been given carte blanche, controlling who enters and leaves living quarters, and some jailers have stopped confiscating weapons and have failed to intervene in hangings and other emergencies.
So far this year, 12 people have died in the New York prison system – the highest number since 2015 – including five suicides.
The transfer plan follows other efforts to reduce the population of Rikers. Last month, Ms Hochul began releasing inmates under a new law known as the Less is More Act, which sought to reduce the prison population by releasing those accused of certain parole violations, such as not report to a parole officer. Another 143 people held on minor convictions and serving sentences of one year or less were also transferred from Rikers to state prisons last month.
The New York City prison system detains more than 5,700 people on any given day, with the majority housed in eight prison buildings on Rikers Island. Most of those in Rikers are awaiting trial.
Responding to reports of widespread staff absenteeism, Mr de Blasio last month signed an emergency order to suspend correctional officers who failed to report for work. So far, more than 100 officers have been suspended and at least five have resigned, city officials said. More than 1,600 have still not shown up for work.