NYC Comptroller: Less uniformed staff in jails than at the height of COVID-19

About 6,400 officers were available to work at the city’s jails in July

By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Rikers Island’s staffing crisis is far from over, with data published by the city Comptroller’s Office showing fewer uniformed officers are available to work in the city’s jails — even though fewer are calling in sick.

About 6,400 officers were available to work at the city’s jails in July, a Daily News analysis of data published by city Comptroller Brad Lander shows.

That’s up from about 5,300 officers available at Rikers and other lockups in January — but down from July 2021, when about 6,700 uniformed staffers were available for work.

And the 6,400 figure for available uniformed staff in July 2022 is in line with the number available at the height of the Correction Department’s sick-call crisis in April 2020.

On a typical day in April 2020, 3,059 officers would call in sick — about 32% of the uniformed staff, the Comptroller’s data shows. That left around 6,500 uniformed officers available for work, the Daily News analysis shows.

The Correction Department did not respond to requests for comment. But Correction Commissioner Louis Molina has repeatedly claimed that he has driven down the rate of officers unavailable to work in the jails since he took over the job in January.

The Comptroller’s data backs up Molina’s claim. On a typical day in January, 2,071 officers were out sick. By July, that number had dropped to 875 — a decline of 57%.

But it’s far from the whole story in the city lockups, where prisoner advocates have counted 12 detainee deaths this year.

The News’ analysis of the Comptroller data shows that the number of uniformed staff employed at Rikers and other city lockups has declined sharply from pre-pandemic levels.

In March 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, the Correction Department employed around 9,500 uniformed staff. That figure declined to about 7,300 in July of this year — a drop of 21% over 28 months.

In July 2021, the department employed around 8,300 uniformed officers. The 7,300 staff total last month means that over the last year, the uniformed staff has dropped by 1,000 people, or 12%.

Correction officers hold various ranks. Those holding the rank of officer numbered 6,194 last week, down 17% from 7,428 in July 2021, according to their union, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association.

“Despite the constant second-guessing, endless scrutiny, and misplaced criticism, we continue to show up to work every day to help keep this city safe and we never get the recognition we rightfully deserve,” said COBA President Benny Boscio in a statement.

The release of the data by the Comptroller and the Correction Department came with some drama.

Originally, the comptroller’s office had a deal with the Correction Department that the department would give its data to the comptroller’s office, which would release it to the public, said a source with the comptroller’s office.

But after the comptroller’s office showed Department of Correction its design for an online data dashboard, the department posted its own dashboard on Monday.

“As a sign of some good faith, our staff solicited their feedback on the designed dashboard. Instead of giving us the feedback, they plagiarized our dashboard and put out their own version,” the comptroller source said.

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NEXT: Rikers Island sick-call staffing crisis ongoing, court-appointed monitor says

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