As reports come out on the eighth death of an incarcerated individual while in Department of Correction (DOC) custody, advocates are steadily demanding that the city properly address the “humanitarian crisis” in the jail. Some are for a federal receivership of Rikers Island, while some just want it closed already.
Detainee Albert Drye, 50, died on Tuesday, June 21, reportedly of unknown causes as of this afternoon. He is the eighth person to die in 2022 from jail or custody.
A seventh person, Anibal Carrasquillo, 40, died on Rikers Island literally a day before on Monday morning. Carrasquillo’s cause of death is being investigated, reported Spectrum News. Last month, Emanuel Sullivan, 20, was found dead in his bed on Rikers Island, making him the sixth person to die this year.
Fourteen people died in DOC custody last year, for a total of 22 deaths in the last two years, said Spectrum News.
Tamara Carter, mother of Brandon Rodriguez who died on Rikers in August 2021, responded to news of more deaths. “It’s heartbreaking, my family is still grieving but how do we even begin to heal when we are getting retraumatized by it happening again and again,” said Carter in a statement. “To anyone who is paying attention, it’s clear that DOC cannot keep people in their custody safe. So then there should not be anyone in their custody.”
Criminal justice advocate Darren Mack, co-director of Freedom Agenda, said that Rikers should have closed a long time ago because no one is safe there. “We need immediate decarceration, like the effort we saw at the beginning of COVID-19, with action from judges, prosecutors, and the DOC commissioner with the support of the mayor,” said Mack. “Without that, they are choosing to let people die.”
The deaths at the jail come just after Mayor Eric Adams and City Council have recently signed off on the city budget, which left out funding for 578 additional correctional staff. Mack and other community leaders applauded the city council for the cuts though, as a way of beating back the DOC’s “corruption and mismanagement” and instead opting to invest in underlying drivers of crime and violence.
The mayor’s Rikers Action Plan was also finally endorsed by the federal U.S. District Court Judge Laura Swain of the Southern District of New York. Swain had ordered the city to revise the plan from its original presentation in May.
“There are no quick or easy solutions to reforming Rikers, but in just a few short months, we have seen reductions in slashings and stabbings, reductions in use of force and assaults on staff, increased searches for weapons and contraband, and fewer officers out on sick leave. It is a good start, but we must go much further,” said Adams in an earlier statement about the plan.
The concerning deaths at Rikers Island continue to raise alarms in the meantime and some think federal receivership, which is when the federal government takes over running an institution, is the answer.
“The Department of Correction couldn’t fulfill its most basic obligations even in the 17 days it was given to revise its last plan. This result raises serious questions about how many more deaths our system is willing to accept before making serious changes,” said Campaign Zero Founder DeRay McKesson. “DOC has run out of chances.”
McKesson said that advocates, including the Legal Aid Society, have argued that the only real step forward is to install a federal receivership. She said that the responsibility for the jail should be in the hands of people who can cut through red tape, make systemic reforms, and keep people safe while in custody.
Assemblymember Eddie Gibbs (D-East Harlem), the state’s first formerly incarcerated person elected to office, said that he toured the jail about a month ago. He said it is unfortunate that there are issues with understaffing and low morale on the correctional side and that many incarcerated people are dying from sickness or suicide. Gibbs said that a federal receivership means greater resources to deal with the generational, systemic problems at Rikers.
He would like to see a collaboration between the two entities, city and state, rather than a complete takeover.
“I certainly would like to see the feds come in and help the mayor and commissioner at some time, but I think the mayor and commissioner they’re capable of turning Rikers Island around,” said Gibbs.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. 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