The New York City Department of Correction on Wednesday handed out suspensions to 20 officers for failing to show up to work amid an ongoing crisis at the notorious Rikers Island jail.
The crackdown took place just one day after Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a warning that any DOC staff member who was AWOL ‘will be held accountable with 30-day suspension without pay.’
During his daily press conference on Tuesday, the mayor unveiled a five-point plan to address the dire situation at Rikers Island, which has long suffered from being critically overcrowded and understaffed.
The NYC Department of Correction on Wednesday handed out 30-day suspensions without pay to 20 officers who failed to show up to work for no apparent reason
‘We understand it’s tough work and a tough environment, but folks, not showing up for work is unacceptable,’ de Blasio said of the absent corrections officers. ‘And when any officer doesn’t show up for work, they actually put every other officer in danger, and that’s not acceptable.
Under the mayor’s Emergency Rikers Relief Plan, any DOC officer who calls out sick for more than a day will have to undergo a medical evaluation and provide a doctor’s note, or face a 30-day suspension.
DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said last week that more than 1,400 officers out of a staff of 8,500 were out sick on average in August, which is more than double compared to the same time last year, reported New York Daily News.
About 93 officers skipped work a day in August 2021, compared to 29 the year before.
The Daily News reported, citing anonymous sources, that one corrections officer who has been out sick since May was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. When DOC investigators came by her house to suspend her, she was not home.
The crackdown took place a day after Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to address problems at Rikers Island and punish AWOL corrections officers
A plan was approved in 2019 to close New York’s violent Rikers Island jail and replace it with multiple smaller jails
Another corrections officer reportedly has spent about a year-and-a-half on sick leave, and claimed she could not remember her shield number when investigators visited her at home.
During a City Council hearing on Wednesday, Commissioner Schiraldi blamed the deteriorating conditions at Rikers on the skyrocketing officer absences.
‘This is the direct driver of more dangerous conditions in Rikers, and that is completely unacceptable,’ he said.
The commissioner promised to hand out bonuses to the officers who have been showing up for every shift, and even working extra shifts to make up for a lack of staff.
‘They are the heroes who have been holding the line during these challenging times,’ he said.
Benny Boscio, President of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association, hit out at de Blasio over the suspensions, blaming the unfolding crisis on a hiring freeze, even as the inmate population at Rikers has doubled.
DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said last week that more than 1,400 officers were out sick on average in August, which is more than double compared to the same time last year
New York Assemblymember Emily Gallagher described Rikers Island as a ‘house of horror’
‘More heavy-handed suspensions will only ensure officers continue to work triple and quadruple shifts with no meals and no rest,’ Boscio argued.
Boscio slammed de Blasio as a ‘dictator’ and called on him to resign for punishing overworked officers who have been pulling double and triple shifts in unsafe working conditions, reported Fox Business.
On August 30, a Rikers Island correction officer was left with a fractured skull after being viciously beaten by an inmate – who later said ‘voices’ in his head told him to carry out the attack.
New York Senator Jessica Ramos says she witnessed a man try to hang himself during a tour of the state’s infamous Rikers Island jail
A day earlier, a series of videos from Rikers Island captured violent scenes of inmates attacking prison guards – including one incident where one officer could not stand up after being brutally kicked and stomped on.
In July, a Rikers Island jail captain was making his nightly rounds when an inmate with a history of attacks and escape attempts hurled his feces at him.
De Blasio’s relief plan also includes bringing in NYPD cops to work in the courts to lighten the burden on DOC officers; speeding up the intake process at Rikers Island; hiring contractors to clean up the jail and make necessary repairs, and hire additional medical providers ‘to make sure every single offices is on duty who should be on duty,’ the mayor said.
The mayor rolled out his plan a day after a group of state lawmakers toured Rikers Island and called it a ‘horror house of abuse and neglect,’ with one politician recounting witnessing an attempted suicide.
‘I can’t begin to tell you the deplorable conditions we saw inside OBCC,’ she told reporters. ‘In one of the intake rooms, there are at least one dozen men – per cell.
The infamous jail is littered with ‘guck,’ dead cockroaches, fecal matter, and rotting food, she said when describing the ‘deplorable’ conditions.
Other human rights infractions included a transgender woman locked up with men, an HIV positive man being denied his medication, diabetics being denied insulin, and employees working back-to-back 24-hour shifts, politicians said.
‘It’s inhumane for everyone here,’ González-Rojas told reporters. ‘People were telling me, “I feel like a slave. I feel like an animal. I’m treated like an animal.”’
Alice Fontier, managing director of Neighborhood Defender Service, recalled during her most recent tour of the facility seeing people packed in intake cells for weeks, without access to a phone or their attorneys.
A two-by-six foot shower is being used as a segregated intake unit, she said, and prisoners are given a plastic bag to use as a toilet.
A plan was approved in 2019 to shutter Rikers and replace it with several smaller jails, but it won’t happen until 2026.