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More than 200 women and transgender individuals will be transferred out of Rikers amid staffing crisis

Lawmakers report awful conditions at Rikers Island
New York lawmakers describe deteriorating conditions at Rikers Island jail 10:16

More than 200 women and transgender individuals will be temporarily transferred out of the Rikers Island jail complex to "safer, more secure" detention facilities, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday. The decision comes as advocates and lawmakers have reported severe public health and safety concerns at the facility, which has been grappling with a staffing shortage. 

Hochul said the transfer, which encompasses "nearly all" women and transgender individuals incarcerated on the island, "will help ease staffing concerns, capacity constraints, and improve safety for many until the City can implement a permanent solution that will bring justice to Rikers." 

Approximately 230 people will be transferred to two facilities in Westchester County, the governor's office said in a press release. The transfers, which will begin on October 18, will occur twice a week and will begin by bringing 10-20 people at a time. Inmates currently receiving hormone replacement therapy at Rikers will be able to access the same treatment at the Westchester facilities, the statement said. 

Rikers, which has been housing inmates for decades on the 400-acre complex, is famous for a lack of oversight and violence. The complex, which has approximately 10,000 beds, is already slated to close by 2027. But lawmakers and advocates say the current conditions at the facility — exacerbated by the staffing shortage — are too dire to ignore.

"The place is in a state of emergency, and we need to act now," New York State Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas told CBS News in September. 

Rikers Island Jail Crisis
The Rikers Island correctional facility is seen in New York on Monday, September 27, 2021. Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Rikers Island after promising to observe the conditions at the beleaguered city jail complex. Jeenah Moon / AP

González-Rojas said that when she toured the facilities, she saw garbage on the floor, along with cockroaches and rotting food. She said she witnessed severe overcrowding, with some inmates unable to access showers or clothing. 

"In one of the intake facilities that is so overcrowded, they have been staying in rooms without bathrooms," said New York State Senator Jabari Brisport. "Usually they would be in there a few hours. Some have been in there for days."

Twelve inmates have died at the facility this year. On Monday, The New York Times reported that the situation has devolved into near-total chaos, with detainees taking control of entire units, guards unable to keep inmates safe, and crumbling infrastructure that has allowed for even more violence. 

Hochul has already taken some steps to reduce the number of people incarcerated on the island. In September, she signed the Less is More Act, which changes the standard for re-incarceration for some types of parole violations, and reached an agreement with the city to transfer some incarcerated individuals who have been sentenced to at least 90 days from Rikers to state facilities. More than 350 people have been released from Rikers as a result of both actions, the governor's office said Wednesday. 

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, who has worked for years to address problems at Rikers, has also implemented stronger penalties for staff who don't show up to work, expedited emergency repairs and accelerated inmate intake procedures.

Tori B. Powell and Zoe Christen Jones contributed reporting. 

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