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

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- State lawmakers questioned de Blasio administration officials about the crisis on Rikers Island on Friday after many of them toured the facility and witnessed the deteriorating conditions.

In light of all of the progress being touted, CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas spoke on the phone to 39-year-old Melvin Collins, who has been on Rikers Island for three years, awaiting trial on felony burglary charges.

"Tell me about the violence," Cline-Thomas said.

"The officers' lives are in jeopardy, it's true. And the inmates' lives are in jeopardy, too," he said. "You have so many violent people coming in the jail because of what they're getting picked up for off of the streets ... In order to protect yourself, people have weapons."

The desperation could be heard in his voice.

Collins is on suicide watch.

"I'm not a violent person. I've gotten jumped. I've gotten sexually assaulted. I've gotten stabbed in my face to the point where I have 13 stitches in my face," he said.

Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration outlined progress being made in front of the state Assembly's correction committee while calling on the courts to take up more cases.

"Rikers Island is not a prison but is being asked to function as one," First Deputy Mayor Dean Duleihan said.

Inside Rikers Island: CBS2's Aundrea Cline-Thomas Details Tour Of Troubled Jail Complex -- 

Between the transfer of inmates to state facilities and the release of non-violent parolees, 400 detainees have left the city jail in the last two weeks. Add to that, addressing overcrowding, upgrading facilities and increasing access to programming.

Still, every day, thousands of correction officers are not coming to work, a shortage that commissioner said is contributing to an alarming rise in suicides.

"I would say it's a mix of our inability to be staffed the way we should be and some natural cause deaths," Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said.

Advocates held a rally and blocked traffic to send a message to district attorneys and judges to stop sending people to Rikers Island while knowing the dangerous conditions.

"We are asking that elected officials step up to the plate and do the right thing," a woman named Crystal, with Freedom Agenda, said. "That they open their eyes, take an honest look at what's going on -- the damage being done to our loved ones -- and act immediately. We will not stop until justice is served."

"This hurts so bad to know that young people are dying in our system. We need to be getting help," another speaker said.

In a letter to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, lawmakers asked for a number of changes, including the release of 164 additional people held on non-violent parole violations.

That would double the number of those being let out under the newly signed Less is More law.

"We have to factor in both what we're trying to achieve in Rikers and what we're trying to achieve in communities. It is not the same situation as this summer," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

"We are not satisfied with what the response has been," said Sergio de la Pava, with New York Defender Services. "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. What we see is we keep sending people to that island every day."

Amid the recent revelations, a federal judge will monitor the conditions more closely.

Meanwhile, behind the walls, Melvins Collins called his aunt. Both are unsure what will happen day to day.

"I'm trying out here," Collins' aunt said.

"I know you are and I'm trying to get home to you in one piece alive. I'm trying to get home in one piece alive. I'm so scared for my life," Collins said.

Scared for his life -- that's a sentiment that's been relayed to CBS2 numerous times.

Violence still remains the central area of concern.

The Bronx District attorney's office that oversees Rikers still has more than 300 open cases for violent incidents this year alone.

The state committee convened for more than six hours after hearing testimony from various stakeholders. No new policies were proposed.


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