NYCDOC lacks ‘elementary skills’ to fix Rikers Island, federal monitor writes

The watchdog report came on the same day another report revealed the city spends more than $550K per inmate each year

By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — The federal watchdog overseeing efforts to reform Rikers Island slammed the Department of Correction Monday for “the absence of elementary skills” needed to improve the “persistently dysfunctional system.”

The latest grim assessment from the court-appointed monitor, Steve Martin, came on the same day it emerged that the city spends more than $550,000 on average to house a single detainee in the jails for one year — nearly four times more than it cost in 2011.

Martin wrote that an ingrained culture resistant to change has made him uncertain if DOC will ever meet goals first laid out in an agreement with the feds six years ago.

“This traps the department in a state of disrepair, where even the first step to improve practice is undercut by the absence of elementary skills — be it staff deployment, safety and security, or managing/supervising staff,” Martin’s team wrote.

“This all leaves the Department in a place where many of the requirements of the consent judgment are simply unattainable, and the consent judgment requirements are unlikely to be successful in bringing about improvements because the basic foundations needed to improve practices does not exist.”

The 152-page report goes on to assert that the DOC remains out of compliance in many areas and that violence trends are going in the wrong direction. Shortly after the scathing report, DOC put out a press release touting signs of hope in lower use of force rates, less overworked staff and more resources for inmates.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, however, called DOC’s rosy picture into question, saying in a statement that inmate assaults on correction officers are “soaring.”

“The spike in violence is reflective of an increasingly violent inmate population that knows there are no consequences for their violent behavior and feels emboldened to attack our officers and non-violent inmates with impunity,” a COBA spokesman said.

The federal monitor reported that the number of inmate fights in the first half of 2021 was double the number in all of 2016. The number of stabbings and slashings in 2021 through October has been more than doubled all of 2020. The 353 stabbings and slashings in 2021 was higher than 338 such incidents in 2018, 2019 and 2020 combined.

Uses of force by staff have increased each year since 2016, with 2021 likely to have the most of any year to date, the monitor said.

From January through September, there were 2,113 assaults on staff or almost 8 per day.

“The risk of physical assault at the hands of a person in custody is both frightening and stressful for staff, and being victimized leads to fear, injury, and trauma,” the monitor wrote. “It is also true that some of these assaults on staff are, in fact, generated by gratuitous and/or heavy-handed staff conduct.”

Staffing issues remain a problem in the jail. On any given day in October, for example, some 80 posts were unmanned.

The disciplinary system remains troubled. The DOC is expected to resolve 400 disciplinary cases in 2021, but there were 1,900 cases pending in July. At that rate, it would take four years just to resolve the backlog.

Correction Department officials, however, painted a much rosier portrait of the situation, comparing shorter periods of time in 2021.

Comparing February to June versus July to November, the DOC said use of force rates by correctional staff declined by 11%, detainee fights dropped by 19% and assaults on staff by 12%. The number of officers working triple tours, AWOL officers and unstaffed posts are all down sharply, the department said.

Detainee programs, recreation, religious services and visits are gradually returning to normal.

“Our hope is that these favorable numbers are early indicators of a positive trend that we can build upon to create a better future for staff and incarcerated people alike,” Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said.

Even as Schiraldi touted his guarded optimism, city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office issued a report analyzing the average cost of each city detainee, which has risen every year since 2011 — even as the average daily jails population dropped from 12,790 that year to 4,961 in fiscal year 2021. The population as of Friday was 5,378.

“The city is spending more and more to incarcerate fewer and fewer individuals – yet the numbers show that rates of violence and use of force in our jail system are substantially increasing,” Stringer said.

©2021 New York Daily News.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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