New York Gov. Kathy Hochul authorizes release of 191 detainees amid ‘humanitarian crisis’ at Rikers Island

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul holds the 'Less is More' law she signed, during ceremonies in the her office, in New York, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul holds the ‘Less is More’ law she signed, during ceremonies in the her office, in New York, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. New Yorkers will be able to avoid jail time for most nonviolent parole violations under a new law that will take effect in March, and largely eliminates New York’s practice of incarcerating people for technical parole violations. AP Photo/Richard Drew
  • More than 6,000 individuals are either detained or jailed at Rikers.
  • Ross MacDonald, chief medical officer for New York City’s Correctional Health Services, said he has “witnessed the collapse of basic jail operations.”
  • Staffing shortages have created conditions that contributed to deaths in the jail.
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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul authorized the release of 191 detainees from the Rikers Island jail complex on September 17, The New York Times reported.

Earlier in the week, state and local officials went with public defenders to tour the facility, where they found a raging “humanitarian crisis” and even witnessed one inmate attempt suicide, state Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas wrote.

Hochul said she would transfer another 200 individuals to state prisons in the coming days, citing staffing issues and a rise in COVID-19 transmission in recent weeks, according to the Times.

There are more than 6,000 individuals currently jailed at Rikers.

“Unfortunately, in 2021 we have witnessed the collapse of basic jail operations, such that today I do not believe the city is capable of safely managing the custody of those it is charged with incarcerating in its jails, nor maintaining the safety of those who work there,” said Ross MacDonald, chief medical officer for the city’s Correctional Health Services, according to a letter obtained by NY1. “The breakdown has resulted in an increase in deaths which we refer to as jail-attributable, where jail conditions meaningfully contributed to the death.”

Guards have been forced to work consecutive shifts, staying on duty for 24 hours or longer, to compensate for the approximately 2,000 officers who are out sick or unable to work daily, the Times reported.

The staffing shortages have created conditions that contribute to jail-attributable deaths, including delays in processing and housing new admissions to the jail, fights over basic necessities like food and medication, and overcrowding resulting in detainees and inmates standing in their own excrement for days, MacDonald said in the letter.

COVID-19 transmission has also been exacerbated by the jail’s crises. Data from the city’s Correctional Health Facilities places the jail population’s positivity rate at 5.32%, much higher than city’s seven-day average of 2.96%.

“In the more than 12 years I’ve been coming to Rikers, I’ve never been as traumatized by what I witnessed as I was today. Hundreds sit in one Intake Pen with one toilet for weeks. Covid will kill them. This is barbaric. I plead w
[Hochul] to visit now & end this torture,” New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm tweeted following his tour of Rikers on September 16.

Insider has reached out to Hochul for comment.