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Rikers Island Chaos: Lawmakers Say Conditions Still Inhumane, Correction Officers' Overtime Totals Nearly $99 Million Over Last 10 Months

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday issued an executive order authorizing the Department of Correction to require 12-hour shifts for officers, just days before the vaccine mandate goes into effect.

The union blasted the measure, saying it will drive the jails into a deeper crisis.

Meanwhile, a delegation of lawmakers said the conditions on Rikers Island are still inhumane.

Despite attempts to address concerns amid inmate deaths and violence, they warn much more needs to be done.

CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas has the latest on where things stand and how much the chaos is costing tax payers.

"There's still a crisis on Rikers Island. We saw it up close today. There's a staffing shortage that disrupts every aspect of operation," City Councilman Mark Levine said.

Levine, Rep. Adriano Espaillat and a delegation of city and state lawmakers recounted continued dirty conditions on Rikers Island, even in renovated areas, inmates not getting meals in time, and correction officers not to showing up in large numbers for work.

"A lot of the folks that work here are calling in sick and as a result the services that are supposed to be provided for those detained here are not being provided," Espaillat said.

On any given day, more than 1,000 officers could be out sick, and hundreds more are on restricted duty, and it comes at a high cost.

Through a formal request for information, CBS2 has learned overtime for correction officers was $7.3 million in January and steadily increased to $12.5 million by October, totaling nearly $99 million for the first 10 months of the year, alone.

Taxpayers foot the bill.

"I am concerned about what this lack and shortage of personnel has done to the morale of the facility. Officers are working two and three shifts, which, obviously, is excruciating," Councilmember Diana Ayala said.

That makes the jail a breeding ground for violence and the reason union leaders say correction officers fear returning.

At least 460 have retired or resigned since the beginning of the year. Shifting more staff to the jails, help from the NYPD, and a new class of correction officers in training still doesn't come close to replacing them.

And lawmakers warn the new COVID-19 variant could make things even worse.

"This is a congregant setting where people are close together, usually unmasked, with low vaccination rates. Those are all the ingredients where we know COVID thrives," Levine said.

That has put both the staff and those incarcerated at an even greater risk, adding to the urgency for a complete overhaul.

To complicate things even more, the vaccine mandate for staff on Rikers Island goes into effect Wednesday. Their vaccination rate has greatly lagged behind peers in other city agencies.

So by the end of the week, even more correction officers may not be at work.

Espaillat also raised concerns about the slowdown in the courts that keeps inmates on Rikers longer awaiting trial. He plans to write a letter to the Centers for Disease Control to see if it can offer safety guidance that would allow the courts to process more cases so the jails don't become a breeding ground for COVID.

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