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Recent Rikers Island Detainee On Conditions At Troubled Jail: 'It Seems As If Violence Is The Only Thing People Respect'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- More than 200 women incarcerated on Rikers Island, including trans women, will be transferred to state-run correction facilities in Westchester County.

The deal struck by Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio is designed to address the chronic issues at the city jail complex.

But as one man told CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas on Wednesday, conditions for the thousands that remain on the island are dire.

READ MOREParole Officers Warn 'Less Is More' Law Could Have Dangerous Consequences Amid Rikers Island Crisis

Behind the walls on Rikers Island, the desperation has not let up, despite the city touting various plans for weeks to address deteriorating conditions.

"It seems as if violence is the only thing people respect," former detainee Sekou Salaam said. "You could be beat up and be in that cell and be dead and nobody would know. That's scary."

A charitable bail fund paid for Salaam's release on Friday after he was at Rikers for two months on first-degree robbery charges.

He maintains his innocence.

READ MOREPublic Defenders, Inmate Advocates Sound Off As More Detainees Are Sent To Troubled Rikers Island

Salaam said a housing unit would not have a correction officer, "for as long as 14 days," adding, "That means no security whatsoever. That means the gangs are running everything."

"It's called 'the program.' You have a chain of command that you have to go through. They run the house. They feed you. They tell the officers what to do and what not to do. They open your cell, they close your cell. They have complete control," Salaam said of the jail.

Unstaffed posts are a result of massive staff shortages that continue putting everyone in danger.

Federal intervention required the city to implement a new safety plan this week that the city would not share with CBS2.

READ MORE'I'm So Scared For My Life': Rikers Island Detainee Shares Experiences Inside Jail Complex

Last month, the federal monitor outlined the "department leadership's failure to address a wide range of security failures."

"The inmates somehow know how to unlock the cells. They will sneak in cells at night, assault people with impunity, and go back to their cells like nothing ever happened," Salaam said.

With more than 300 open cases for violent incidents at the jail complex, the lack of swift consequences some say just emboldens the troublemakers.

Salaam was released, but is far from being free, as his case is pending.

When asked what he thinks he needs that has has not received, Salaam said, "I need professional treatment for my mental health. I need to see a therapist or psychotherapist to discuss trauma."

He said his struggle with drugs made him very familiar with revolving door of the legal system. He's hoping this time to have the will and the help to change.

"Being locked up with young men half your age, it's embarrassing," Salaam said.

READ MOREExclusive: CBS2 Goes Inside Rikers Island To See How The Department Of Correction Is Trying To Turn Things Around

Salaam said he believes he would've been severely injured, or even killed, if he remained at Rikers.

On Thursday, the federal monitor will provide a judge another update on the conditions.

Lowering the jail population has been a part of the strategy to address the problems the governor calls grave. The women will begin to be transferred to facilities in Bedford Bills beginning next week.


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