City Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi on Oct. 1 vowed to a state oversight committee that the highly publicized troubles on Rikers Island are being addressed.
The commissioner, accompanied by First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan and others, said the city has corrected many of the poor conditions listed by a federal monitor and seen firsthand during an unannounced visit by members of the City Council.
Later during the hearings, Benny Boscio Jr., president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, laid blame for many of the problems on the doorsteps of city and state government.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) headed the meeting as chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Correction.
“We’re fixing this place because it needs fixing,” Schiraldi told the committee. “I’m not downplaying anything here ... We’re starting to do better.
“This has been going on for decades. I can’t fix it overnight. No commissioner can.”
Schiraldi said, for example, that intake area cells, which routinely have come to cram many people inside while they are processed and assigned, have reduced wait times to 10 hours or less, when they recently were holding new admissions a full day or longer. He said things such as cleaning and maintenance have improved and things like the replacement of broken locks — in a jail — are being addressed.
He said a large part of the reason for increased violence and their problems was the slowdown of court proceedings during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He acknowledged absenteeism among guards due to illness, injuries and those absent without leave have forced them to require some triple shifts to remain staffed.
He did say absenteeism is improving; that retroactive bonuses soon will be in place for triple shifts, and that the DOC now is providing food, transportation and rest areas for guards who must work triples.
Schiraldi also said they are temporarily hiring private security for nonprisoner areas such as perimeter security. COBA vows to sue, but Schiraldi said it is the least worst option. “This is only better than unstaffed posts and triples,” he said.
Boscio said the de Blasio administration has completely mismanaged Rikers, blaming things like the elimination of segregation for violent inmates under age 21.
“Without our ability to separate violent inmates from the general population, repeat violent offenders terrorize nonviolent inmates and correction officers with impunity,” Boscio said.
He added that the Bronx District Attorney’s Office has refused to prosecute many cases of stabbings and slashings.
He said of 20 reported sexual assaults against female guards in the last five months, only six have resulted in an indictment.
He also said the city has not hired new guards since 2019, and that the academy class begun last week had only 64 of a possible 400 seats filled.
“When you hear the mayor callously and shamelessly blame our union and our essential workforce for the humanitarian crisis he has created, please be mindful of the facts I have just presented ... If your committee is truly interested in improving the conditions in our jails then it’s time, for once, to listen to the boots on the ground.”