Sheinkopf Speaks: Speaking Out For Rikers’ Blue-Collar Workers

Correctional officers say they are overworked and face dangerous situations daily. Photo by Dean Moses for amNY.
Hank Sheinkopf

So it is was how many New Yorkers felt when they heard outraged members of our highly paid government expressing shame and shock after they visited Rikers Island. It was possibly the first time some self-identified progressives got the treatment actual working people often receive: urine and feces thrown at them with a touch of spit added. Ah, the agony.  

But rational people must agree, that if for example, you are a City Council member earning a hefty annual $148,000, plus health insurance, plus pension, plus staff, plus, plus, plus, you can go for the cost of dry cleaning a suit. One New Yorker was heard to say in New Yorkese: my heart bleeds cold borscht.

Yes, jail is a lousy place. And yes the City–and that means the politicians–have failed the jail course and should receive a collective F. 

For months, NYC correction officers have been knifed, slashed, assaulted and beaten. For years, society’s most unwanted–the mentally ill–have been grabbed off the street when they act out–as is often the case with people who have emotional, chemical and related problems–and detained at the island prison complex in Hell Gate next to LaGuardia Airport known colloquially as The Rock. Why? The State of New York created a policy called deinstitutionalization. Where do you those folks would be invited to go? To the homes of our highly paid officials? 

So what do they do at first? They blame the blue-collar workers known as Correction Officers. Yes, the ones who have to dry clean their clothing often but can’t scream about the indignity in front of a news camera or a reporter. No post in a jail or prison can be uncovered. You have forced over-time and when you have forced over-time you have people calling in sick and when you have uncovered posts you have suicide and crime. 

Successful attempts have been made to divert people accused of low-level non-violent crimes. That’s low bail no jail.  We haven’t done enough of it. People who work at Rikers are being mugged. We have a physical plant deteriorating. We have multiple public agencies–city and state–charged with oversight. Give them an F too.

Recently, we had bail reform. Two fine people charged with gun crimes released at arraignment did what you’d expect. No they were not invited to one of our highly paid government official’s homes for dinner, drinks, and a progressive by-invitation-only fund-raiser. No, they killed two people.

Some people do not belong on the street. Correction officers deserve to be treated as humans. Close Rikers? You want a jail in your neighborhood? 

How about our paid officials do some planning using the real world as a model. The dry cleaning bills?  Worry more about people on both sides of the bars, both sides of the bridge connecting The Rock to the mainland. That’s why you earn he big bucks. 

And please, stop professing shock at the conditions you knew about but failed to fix. Please.

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