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

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Violence and inmate deaths at Rikers Island have elected leaders sounding the alarm.

The jail population has ballooned and many correction officers have stopped showing up for work.

A video posted on TikTok shows detainees piled into a cell, casually smoking, dancing to music and flashing cash, highlighting the meltdown at Rikers Island.

This comes as recent attacks, along with Tuesday's inmate death, the 10th since December, brought the chaos to a tipping point.

"We can't have another death inside of our city jails. We can't have another officer getting attacked," Councilman Keith Powers told CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas.

Powers chairs the criminal justice committee and called an emergency meeting with stakeholders.

According to the Department of Correction, one third of the staff a day at Rikers calls out sick or doesn't show up for work, many believe out of fear, protest or both.

Officials say gang members cooped up together is causing rising tension and violence.

"We absolutely are going to bust up housing by gang affiliation," DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said.

During a discussion with public advocate Jumaane Williams, Schiraldi touted a plan that prioritizes:

  • Hiring 600 correction officers, including enticing retirees to return
  • Implementing a new sick leave policy that requires a doctor's note
  • Eliminating forced triple shifts for staff who cover the sickouts
  • And providing more rehabilitative programs and incentives for detainees.

"We're actually going to bring in some of the violence interrupters," Schiraldi said.

Nearly all of the detainees at Rikers are awaiting trial.

While the public advocate says fewer people should be sent to jail pre-trial in the first place, the commissioner is calling on the courts to speed up the hearings.

"We know that this plan doesn't go as far as many of us want it to go," Williams said.

The city's plan to close Rikers and replace it with smaller borough-based jails is meant to address many of these issues, but the commissioner says if the culture doesn't shift, a new building won't make things better.

Next week, the criminal justice committee will hold a hearing with all of the stakeholders to try to get to the bottom of the issue.

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