Mayor Adams says circumstances crucial to understanding recent Rikers Island deaths

Mayor Adams visits Rikers Island
Mayor Eric Adams visits Rikers Island. Wednesday, June 22, 2022.
Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

A week after a federal judge accepted Mayor Eric Adams and city Department of Correction (DOC) Commissioner Louis Molina’s action plan to turn around conditions on Rikers Island, the mayor said deaths inside the troubled facility over the last two days could be the result of “pre-existing” medical conditions.

“We do want to acknowledge the recent deaths in the Department of Correction,” Adams said. “But let’s look at each individual death and find out what happened. It blew my mind to learn that out of 5,000 prisoners, they had over 140 something thousand cases of people getting medical treatment. Think about that number. By the time they get here there are pre-existing conditions, there are health crises, mental health illnesses, all of the things that people are facing at the worst end of their lives are discovered when they come here. Five thousand people, over 140,000 medical interactions, that’s an amazing number to look at and examine.”

The mayor made the statement regarding the recent deaths to reporters at a news conference Wednesday held on at the island jail complex celebrating the work of corrections officers in combating violence on Rikers by resuming a process known as “tactical search operations,” which he said led to the seizure of 2,700 makeshift weapons. During the news conference the mayor displayed some of the weapons that had been seized from inmates, most of them shanks made from pieces of the deteriorating jail like plexiglass.

Mayor Eric Adams examines confiscated contraband on Rikers Island. Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

Since Monday two inmates have died at the city jail. The first was Anibal Carrasquillo, who died of a possible drug overdose Monday in the Otis Bantum Correctional Center (OBCC) where he was being held, according to a published report. That facility is reportedly understaffed.

The second was Albert Drye, who lost his life at Bellevue hospital Tuesday after suffering unspecified injuries at the Eric M. Taylor Center (EMTC) on Rikers where he was being held. While the cause of death still isn’t clear, the facility has seen a recent rise in slashings and stabbings in its intake unit also due to a staffing shortage.

Then the New York Daily News reported late Tuesday night that a third inmate died at Lincoln hospital in the Bronx Saturday after trying to hang himself in a Bronx courthouse. The suspect, Antonio Bradley, wasn’t counted as having died in DOC custody because he was granted compassionate release while in the hospital.

So far eight people have officially died in DOC custody this year – nine if Bradley was included in the tally. Sixteen people died in DOC custody overall last year.

Although these three deaths didn’t appear to be the result of pre-existing medical conditions, the mayor still told reporters that context should be considered whenever looking at the high numbers of fatalities at the jail complex.

“By the time people reach Rikers, their health has deteriorated,” Adams said. “Now you’re telling me ‘three people were stabbed, three people were murdered.’ Now we’re talking about a different conversation. So, let’s look at each individual and find out, out of  those 5,000 people three have died, let’s find out why they died. Because Rikers didn’t give them heart disease, if that’s the reason they died. Rikers didn’t give then diabetes, if that’s the reason they died. We look at the number, three people died. But why did they die? You know, what conditions did they have before they came to Rikers Island?”

Mayor Eric Adams tours facilites on Rikers Island. Wednesday, June 22, 2022. Photo courtesy of Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office.

According to a published report, a Bronx Supreme Court judge ruled last month the DOC was in violation of a court order to bring Rikers inmates to medical appointments. The lawsuit brought by several criminal justice advocacy groups alleged that the detainees weren’t given medical care because of the jail’s ongoing staffing issues.

Until very recently, over 1,000 corrections officers have been out sick, medically monitored or just haven’t shown up for work each day since last summer. Molina told reporters that the daily average now is more around 900, which he said is an over 40 percent drop from last summer when it was over 2,000.

Molina was bullish in answering reporter’s questions about how many of those officers out on sick leave are actually sick and how many may be faking an illness to avoid coming to work in the violent facilities on the island.

“The number changes every day,” Molina said. “There are individuals that may not feel well for a couple of days, like any other job, and they call in sick. And there are others that have other long standing medical issues that were ongoing, and [we’re] evaluating to determine their fitness for duty. We also must remind ourselves that we’ve just gone through a global pandemic, and the uniformed staff and the non uniformed staff that work here didn’t have the luxury of teleworking from home in order to manage this very volatile and violent population.”

Entrence to Rikers Island jail complex/File photo.

In a statement, the Legal Aid Society criticized Adams for not “taking responsibility” for the deaths on the island jail this year calling it “irresponsible and callous.”

“Mayor Adams and Commissioner Molina have not acted with urgency and commitment to run the jails with even basic levels of correctional competence,” the statement read. “While Mayor Adams makes these press announcements, people held inside the jails are unsupervised as staff continue to stay home from work with impunity and basic jail services remain in limbo. The extraordinarily high death rate on Mayor Adams’ watch, and the suffering of all who are kept in abysmal conditions inside, are a humanitarian crisis that this Administration seems incapable of rectifying any time soon.”