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Rikers Island Employees Report Uptick In Assaults On Staff; Inmate Representatives Say They're Being Denied Basic Rights

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The conditions at Rikers Island are now being described as a humanitarian crisis.

Employees say a major staffing shortage and an influx of violent offenders is leading to more assaults on staff, and representatives of inmates say they're being denied basic rights.

"We've never seen violence like this before," nurse Alicia Butler said.

After 20 years as a nurse on Rikers Island, Butler is out recuperating after she was assaulted by an inmate.

"They have full reign. They have taken control over the facility ... We are pleading for outside help. It is truly an emergency," she said.

By phone, Dr. Frank Proscia told CBS2 inmates' medical appointments are being delayed, leading to frustration.

"In July, one of our doctor members had a shank put up to his throat," he said.

They say each inmate is escorted by a correction officer, but the officers' union says they're dealing with their own onslaught of attacks.

City numbers show assaults on staff at Rikers are up almost 25%.

The federal monitor last week wrote to a federal judge, saying, "Excessive and unchecked staff absences has led to other officers having to work double and triple shifts, further compromising the safety of the Facilities."

They added that this year, there have been four presumed in-custody suicides, the deterioration of basic security protocols and the denial of basic services.

"Judges are setting bail on cases where bail should not be set. The result is overcrowding at Rikers Island," said Brent Low, staff attorney for Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem.

The Department of Correction says the number of officers absent without official leave increased 300% from last summer.

CBS2's Lisa Rozner took the issue to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"This situation, from what I'm hearing, is very urgent, so what can you do right now?" she asked.

"We've reduced absenteeism radically through that process already and more to come. So we're going to have more officers where we need them, when we need them. Any responsibilities that we can shift off officers to civilians or others we will," de Blasio said.

Correction officers get unlimited sick time, but their union disputes any allegation that that time is being abused.

The union president told CBS2 in part, "If there is any protest going on, it's Mayor de Blasio's continued refusal to hire the 2,000 Correction Officers that we need to end our staffing crisis."

The city says 400 officers are being hired in the fall. The DOC is holding a press conference on the situation Thursday.

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