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Advocates Call On New York City To Remove People From Rikers Island As City Council Convenes On Crisis

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- For hours Wednesday, the crisis on Rikers Island took center stage, as City Council members heard testimony and questioned stakeholders.

This after Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Correction outlined plans to address deplorable conditions, violence, and staff shortages, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas reported.

READ MOREMayor De Blasio Announces Emergency Plan For Rikers Island After Wave Of Violence

Eleven people have died in custody on Rikers Island in the last year alone.

Melania Brown is the sister of Layleen Polanco, who died in solitary confinement in 2019. Brown knows the heartache all too well.

"My brain won't register it. These are humans and they're dying and it just shows that they don't care," Brown said.

There's no question the jail is in crisis, but the outrage reaches a fevered pitch over ways to fix it.

"This city is incapable of protecting the people in their custody. So then no one should be in their custody," said Brandon Holmes of Freedom Agenda.

READ MORELawmakers Witness What They Call Deteriorating Conditions Inside Rikers Island; 'Shame On All Of Us'

Criminal reform advocates say no plan is complete without de-carceration -- or the releasing detainees, many of whom are pre-trial.

De Blasio could send low-level offenders to serve their sentences in a work-release program, known as 6A. Gov. Kathy Hochul could sign a bill that releases parolees incarcerated on technical violations, like missing curfew.

Together, more than 400 out of the 6,000 detainees would be impacted.

At a City Council hearing, the de Blasio administration continued to press for state intervention, expedited court hearings, and district attorneys and judges not sending detainees to Rikers in the first place.

Widespread sick-outs of correction officers are keeping defendants from being escorted to hearings.

"We cannot prosecute our way out of this. The district attorney and prosecution should be the last resort and not the first to prevent violence and keep the jails safe," Bronx DA Darcel Clark said.

So far, the mayor and the Department of Correction's plans promise to:

  • Fix broken cell doors and address unsanitary conditions
  • Relieve overcrowding
  • Provide programs to those incarcerated
  • Hire more correction officers, while holding those who don't show up to work accountable

"We also understand that when conditions in our facilities improve, incarcerated individuals' morale improves, their behavior improves, and violence decreases," Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said.

That includes violence against the staff.

READ MOREDepartment Of Correction Commissioner Unveils Plans To Address Violence, Rising Tension At Rikers Island

Correction officers say they've been unfairly targeted by the new policies.

"We didn't create this series of systemic failures that have created these dire conditions, and we damn sure didn't turn a blind eye while they were unfolding," said Benny Boscio of COBA NYC.

Now, all eyes are on the correctional facility, as the pressure is on to make changes before tragedy strikes again.

The mayor is being criticized for not going to Rikers to see the conditions first hand. Now, he says, he will visit before his term is over at the end of the year.

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