Mr. Williams said in an interview that the mayor “needs to use some of his clemency powers” to get certain people out of the jail, that new corrections officers should be hired and that corrections officers who have been calling in sick or not showing up to work for thousands of shifts over the last year, needed to return to their jobs.
In interviews, detainees, jail staff and medical workers said that the situation at the jail complex worsened with each passing day.
Some jail houses that were once secured by up to four correction officers now have none, as nearly a third of the department’s roughly 8,400 uniformed staff are either out sick or otherwise not showing up for work. Gangs and other detainees have taken to managing the comings and goings of dozens of incarcerated people in their dorms, breaking up fights and administering medical care.
Mounds of trash line the hallways and staircases. Soap and cleaning products are often unavailable. Some units are without toilet paper; in others, worms inch out from drains. Many incarcerated people have not been outside in months and spend their hours in dormitories without programming and services. The timing of their meals — if they get them at all — is unpredictable, a public defender said. The barbershop is closed. The medical clinic is backed up, a staff member said.
Fear and tension run high.
“We have no minimum standards whatsoever, no medical services, no recreation, no religious services or law and library services,” Reginald Wiggins, 58, said. “We have not had an officer on this unit in three weeks. I am in fear of my life.”
In May, Mr. de Blasio named a new correction commissioner, Vincent Schiraldi, who is viewed as an experienced reformer, and the mayor pledged to hire more correction officers, though those hires are unlikely to bring relief to the system until next year. The fact that Mr. de Blasio has not visited Rikers since the summer of 2017 has infuriated advocates for incarcerated people.
Keith Powers, a City Council member who leads the criminal justice committee, goes to Rikers several times each year, he said, and called on Mr. de Blasio to visit.