This Jan. 28, 2016 file photo shows a solitary confinement cell called “the bing” at Rikers Island prison in New York City. (AP Photo / Bebeto Matthews, file)
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A man who says he is currently incarcerated at Rikers Island in New York called a local radio show to talk about the severity of conditions in recent months: declining supplies and cleanliness, lack of medical care and threat constant COVID-19.
“The only way to get a medical appointment is to lie on the floor, and they have to come and get you on a stretcher. And they take their time to come and put you on a stretcher, ”Nathaniel, who has been in jail since January, told Brian Lehrer on his morning show on WNYC Tuesday.
“We have had two times in nine months to change our laundry,” he adds.
Nathaniel’s call to Lehrer’s show comes as Rikers’ issues have shifted from a local issue to one that national leaders in Washington, DC have begun to notice: they are questioning leaders of the city on what they did to fix the month-long problem that 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 (DOC) and created a severe staff shortage. At times during the summer, Rikers had as many as 2,000 employees calling sick in a single day, according to the New York Times, although the DOC suspected that many of those employees were using their unlimited sick days. granted as leave. .
These staff shortages have severely hampered the prison’s ability to treat new detainees and provide them with the necessary medical examinations, clothing and placements within the facility. In some cases, treatment procedures that previously took no more than 24 hours have turned into trials lasting 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 in the facility, several by suicide, due to the negligence of prison guards and increasingly atrocious conditions.
“We have been locked 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 for over a month,” Nathaniel said, referring to the medical appointments detainees are supposed to be given within a reasonable time if they request them.
The cleanliness and hygiene of the prison have also deteriorated. Soap is rarely available, trash is strewn throughout the facility, broken plumbing has left inmates defecating and urinating 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 comptroller reported that the prison is in a “state of emergency” and would require outside intervention to properly address its ongoing issues.
Nathaniel told Lehrer he was locked up in Rikers after running away from an armed policeman on leave without knowing he was a member of law enforcement. The off-duty cop reportedly injured himself while chasing him and was charged with assault by Nathaniel.
“I didn’t know he was an officer. It was 4 am, and all I knew was that someone pulled out a gun and I ran, ”the caller explained live on the air.
Now Nathaniel cannot pay his $ 10,000 bond. (City judges and prosecutors continued to send people to jail for pre-trial detention despite deteriorating conditions, even though the accused 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 step in to address what they call an “inhuman and unconstitutional” public health crisis.
“We, along with US Representatives Jerry Nadler, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velazquez, strongly believe that the Rikers should be immediately taken out of jail and shut down,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted last week.
Others called on President Joe Biden and members of his administration to intervene.
Governor Hochul, just weeks after taking office, signed an executive order authorizing virtual hearings. She also signed legislation allowing some detainees to be held in state facilities or to be fully released for less serious crimes.
But De Blasio’s handling of the crisis in Rikers infuriated local leaders and supporters of prison reform, with some calling his recently unveiled five-point plan to address the problems “reckless,” according to the New York Times.
After weeks of public criticism of his inability to act, De Blasio finally visited Rikers for the first time since 2017, but apparently did not speak to any wardens 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 elaborate on any of the issues he saw that he wanted to resolve.
That is why Benny Boscio Jr., president of the Benevolent Association of Correctional Officers, told reporters outside the prison during the mayor’s visit that De Blasio had made a “sugar coated” visit, according to local media outlet The City.
Nathaniel said the same to Lehrer on Tuesday.
“Under 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.”