3 NYC jails other than Rikers Island see surge in violence

Union officials and inmate advocates both agree that the city needs to do more to end the violence


By Reuven Blau
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Violence at the city's three jails that are not on Rikers Island has spiked in the past three years, records show.

The Brooklyn Detention Complex logged 58 stabbings and slashings from 2015 to 2018. The complex only had one during the six years prior to 2015, records show.

This Jan. 7, 2016 photo shows the Brooklyn Detention Center in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
This Jan. 7, 2016 photo shows the Brooklyn Detention Center in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

The downtown facility on Atlantic Ave. — which reopened in 2008 — is now considered one of the most dangerous in the city. There have been four slashings at the jail in 2018 so far, records show.

Union officials and inmate advocates — two sides that normally lock horns — have found common ground over the troubling increase in violence in the three jails in Brooklyn, Bronx and Manhattan.

Both sides agree that the city needs to do more than close the 10 jails on Rikers Island to end the violence. The city has plans to shutter Rikers in the next decade and open borough-based detention centers.

"The false narrative that building more borough jails is the magic pill is eviscerated by these stats," said Sidney Schwartzbaum, the former union president for top jail supervisors.

Schwartzbaum and other union officials said that inmates who are violent in the jail need to face stiffer punishments.

"Policies need to change," he said.

Inmate advocates oppose any major changes to the disciplinary system and are particularly against bringing back solitary confinement for younger detainees.

But they agree that the closure of Rikers will not remedy the long-maligned jail system.

They argue the sweeping shutdown plan must include a major change in the culture of how detainees are treated and handled by officers and medical staff.

"Otherwise, we'll just have four Riker Islands," said Elizabeth Gaynes, CEO of the Osborne Association, a criminal justice reform organization.

In April, a federal monitor overseeing the department reported that correction officers' uses of force against inmates has gone up over the past two years, despite a series of initiatives designed to reduce those violent encounters.

Steve Martin, the monitor, detailed a series of cases of alleged officer abuses. In some, the officers were never punished after an internal "Rapid Review" team concluded there was no misconduct.

Also, department investigations often take years to complete.

"The department struggles with conducting timely investigations that result in reasonable outcomes," Martin wrote.

As for the Rikers shutdown plan, Gaynes and others point out that the jails off the island will either be totally new, like the one planned in the Bronx, or drastically revamped.

"Rikers Island inherently creates its own dangers because of its design," Gaynes said.

New jails are expected to have more rooms for programs, better air conditioning and heating, and easier access for visitors.

The city's so-called "outer-borough" jails have long been considered relative safe havens where inmates angled to get placed.

That's no longer the case.

The Manhattan Detention Complex had 41 stabbings and slashings from 2015 to 2018, records show. By contrast, there were 14 similar bloody attacks from 2009 to 2014.

Additionally, the Vernon C. Bain Center in the Bronx has been a dangerous place for detainees over the past three years.

There were 16 slashings on the 800-bed floating correctional facility from 2015 to 2018. There were five from 2009 to 2014.

Overall, the violence figures are trending in the right direction for the first time since 2011, jail officials point.

The total number of stabbings and slashings in the entire jail system went down by 15.4% last year, from 155 in 2016 to 131 in 2017.

"This is largely thanks to officers who have been working tirelessly to stop the flow of weapons and contraband," said department spokesman Jason Kerste.

The Brooklyn facility contributed to that drop, going from 29 in 2016 to 14 in 2017, records show.

At the same time, in the Tombs in Manhattan the number went up from 13 in 2016 to 17 in 2017. Similarly, the Bronx figures went from three to eight over that same period.

Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, pointed out that traditionally low-level offenders were moved to the jails away from Rikers.

But there are fewer of those kinds of inmates in the system as the push to reduce the population behind bars progresses, records show.

"They are not there for turnstile jumping, drinking alcohol from open container, or urinating on a park bench," he said. "They are there for attempted murder, gun charges and felony assaults."

"There's a violent culture on the street," he said, "and they are brining that to the jails."

©2018 New York Daily News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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