Exclusive: AG James says she is actively looking into Rikers allegations

AG James
State Attorney General Letitia James

New York State Attorney General Letitia James told PoliticsNY Wednesday that her office is now looking into some of the allegations of severe living conditions at Rikers Island. 

“We’re specifically looking at the suicide rate, and the conditions,” James said. Though the attorney general was not present for a recent tour of the prison facility, where several politicians said they witness an inmate attempt suicide, she is stepping in to look at the controversy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sept. 14 announced his emergency measures for the facility to make sure that corrections officers show up for work, and is already being criticized for acting too late. 

Corrections officers will face unpaid suspension if they do not show up for work, and they are already calling in sick in record numbers. 

De Blasio has not visited Rikers either, but Public Advocate Jumaane Williams did, and called on the mayor to do the same in a statement. 

“I was shaken during yesterday’s tour, and I am scared for the well-being of everyone who lives or works on Rikers,” Williams said. 

Any hesitation from the mayor or Governor Kathy Hochul, he said, amounts to responsibility. 

“See what I saw, hear what I heard, and you will know the moral, human obligation using every tool available to provide disaster relief,” he said. 

At a Brooklyn event, Williams detailed to reporters even more of what he saw: Inmates using plastic bags to defecate, one man standing in unknown fluid in a shower-turned-cell, and an inmate with HIV who couldn’t access their medication.

Just minutes before, Governor Hochul suggested to reporters that state-level intervention could be on the way. What that may entail could be up to the attorney general once she presents her findings. 

As the city begins to roll out the mayor’s emergency plan, NYPD officers will be shifted into correction officer roles in court, so that more officers may go down to Rikers. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told Pix11 that he does not want to take officers off the streets, and he especially does not want to empty out Rikers island. He called the notion “ludicrous.”

The NYC Council will also meet on Sept. 15 to discuss the mayor’s plan, as well as the conditions state lawmakers saw. 

As to whether or not state intervention is possible, Attorney General James said that her office has the latitude to do so. “Our office approaches everything through the lens of justice,” James said.