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Malcolm Boatwright Becomes 15th Rikers Island Detainee To Die While In Custody This Year

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Another detainee on Rikers Island has died while in custody, marking more deaths at the jail complex this year than the previous two years combined.

This latest incident renews calls for reforms as Rikers has been plagued with violence and a staffing crisis.

Rikers detainee 28-year-old Malcolm Boatwright died at Bellevue Hospital around 5:30 a.m. Friday after "he experienced a medical issue," according to the Department of Correction.

In a statement, Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi offered his condolences adding, "This is a heartbreaking loss at the end of a very difficult year."

"People are not sentenced to death. They're not even sentenced. These are pre-trial individuals who are presumed innocent," said Alice Fontier, an attorney with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

Boatwright had been in jail since Nov. 12 on sexual abuse charges.

He becomes the 15th detainee to die in custody during what's become the deadliest year since 2016, when thousands more inmates were housed at the jail complex.

Fontier represents detainees on Rikers Island and joins advocates in demanding change.

"That is their number one job, to keep the people they have alive and bring them to court, and they're failing at that," Fontier told CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas. "The judges have to stop setting bail. They have to seriously consider risk when we are asking for release."

For months, the Department of Correction has been under scrutiny as chaos erupted, from violence to a staff shortage of correction officers.

"We're at such a disadvantage that we've lost total control of Rikers Island," said Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers' Benevolent Association.

While efforts have been made to address some issues, the federal monitor overseeing the crisis says it does not go far enough. Many say another death just highlights how much more needs to be done.

According to the Department of Correction, the details and cause of Boatwright's death are under investigation. Calls to his attorney were not returned.

Boatwright had a court appearance scheduled for Monday. He was also set to be sentenced in a separate case dating back to 2013.

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