Deaths on Rikers this year are escalating with at least five being suicides.
Karim Isaabdul, 42, is the 11th person this year to die on Rikers Island, fanning the flames of outrage over the deplorable conditions in the city’s most notorious jail complex.
According to NY1, another detainee being held across the river from Rikers at the Vernon C. Bain Center died the morning of Wednesday, September 22, making the 34-year-old the 12th to die.
The Department of Corrections (DOC) responded to a medical emergency, then transported him to Lincoln Hospital where he was pronounced dead, said NY1 who broke the story.
The detainee had been on Rikers Island since 2019.
“Rikers Island has been a national embarrassment for far too long and the situation there now is completely unacceptable,” said Mayor-elect and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in a statement after he toured the facility on Sept. 3.
In a city council committee meeting on criminal justice held Sept. 15, councilmembers as well as Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams testified again to horrendous conditions of the jail and that at present that have put both correctional officers and the incarcerated in their custody at risk of violence and nutrition deprivation among other things.
Isaabdul died of what “appears to be natural” causes in the North Infirmary Command facility on Sunday, Sept. 19, though he had complained of “not feeling well,” reported the Associated Press (AP). He had been in custody since Aug. 18 and was being held on a state warrant for parole violation, said the AP.
In Tuesday’s briefing, Sept. 21, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the investigation is ongoing and there are some confidentiality issues surrounding Isaabdul’s death in response to an Amsterdam News’ inquiry.
Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and chief executive officer of NYC Health + Hospitals, added about Isaabdul’s death that “if we believed it was COVID, we would have had to have done contact tracing and isolation of a large number of people, which we have not done. I think that gives the answer without saying anything about the person’s health.”
“It is a bad situation, it must be addressed very, very aggressively and it is being addressed aggressively,” said de Blasio in the briefing. “We know that because of COVID a series of problems were set in motion. We have to turn every one of them around. That’s our responsibility. That’s my responsibility.”
The city is committed to processing people in less than 24 hours and opening up more holding spaces, moving incarcerated to state facilities, getting help from the NYPD, and bringing in additional capacity to help improve safety and security, said de Blasio.
Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Less is More criminal justice bill last Friday. It helped move more than 100 incarcerated people, out of a population of more than 6,000, off of Rikers Island sooner and is supposed to eliminate people getting locked up for technical parole violations.
Another keynote in de Blasio’s plan to improve the conditions on Rikers is reassessing the correctional workforce and cracking down on mass absenteeism that’s been rampant since last year.
Councilmember Keith Powers, who chairs the criminal justice committee, said that the jail has experienced a “collapse of basic jail operations” as abuse of force and assault has surged against jailees and correctional staff alike, due in large part to massive staff shortages.
Many chimed in that overworked corrections officers are often at the jail without food, water, meals or bathroom breaks for up to 24 hours under duress with multiple shifts, which of course, would lead to them not coming into work.
Schiraldi said in the committee meeting that there are currently about 8,400 correctional staff with 2,700 claiming sick leave.
“All of this stems from the fact that you don’t have enough correctional officers. Many who are going to work are being asked to do three shifts, which is intolerable,” said Republican mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa.
Sliwa, who heads the Guardian Angels organization, maintains that there should be at least 2,000 additional officers on Rikers that have received proper training, and that de Blasio transferring patrol cops to the jail is “ridiculous.” He also criticized de Blasio for not visiting the jail.
“Basic health and safety standards are not being met because of increases to the jail population, lack of resources for staff and facilities, and needed policy changes to address this crisis head-on,” said Adams.
Adams’ ideas for fixing the Rikers situation includes increased funding for the prosecutor’s office to expedite cases, build emergency off-site facilities, end housing gangs by affiliation, and a ban on forced triple-shifts for corrections officers.
Both Sliwa and Adams said that the “mentally ill” or disturbed didn’t belong on Rikers and should be moved to a facility off the island where they could be treated.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for the AmsterdamNews. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w