Yahoo News: Rikers Island set to release hundreds of inmates according to NY officials

By Aisha Powell via Yahoo News 

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said that she is “deeply disturbed” by the situation at Rikers

New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that nearly 200 inmates at Rikers Island would be released during a press conference in her midtown office on Friday.

The city’s first female governor, who described the holding jail as a “volatile tinder box,” made the announcement just before signing into law the Less is More Act, which is aimed at stopping “technical” violations from putting ex-cons back in jail.

The newly freed inmates were all in jail due to this type of “technical” violation, which includes things like being late for appointments with a parole officer, missing curfew or testing positive for drugs and alcohol.

“New York State incarcerates more people for parole violations than anywhere in the country,” Hochul said during the conference. “That is a point of shame for us, and it needs to be fixed. It’s going to be fixed today.”

The act doesn’t go into full effect until March 2022.

The ongoing crisis at Rikers Island has been acknowledged by New York officials for decades.

The massive jail is the largest correctional institution in the world and has made headlines for its issues with violence, extensive inmate wait times for trial, and abuses by staff.

The obstacles inmates encounter at the jail was captured in the highly acclaimed documentary television mini-series The Kalief Browder story in 2017.

Browder, who was 16-years-old at the time, was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack and spent three years at the facility waiting for trial.

The series covered the physical and emotional abuse the teenager endured from other inmates and correctional officers throughout his stint, leading up to his two-year stay in solitary confinement. Browder was released on lack of evidence in 2013.

In November 2013, Browder filed a lawsuit against the New York Police Department, the Bronx District Attorney and the Department of Corrections, for his delayed trial and malicious persecution.

Two years later he committed suicide. His death was said to be a direct result of mental illness caused by the trauma he endured while at Rikers and while in solitary confinement.

His death and the docuseries helped push a litany of policies aimed at reforming youth incarceration and banning solitary confinement for juveniles. Mayor Bill De Blasio put for a proposal to permanently close the jailing facility by 2027.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the continuous issues that plague the facility.

There have been several reports of COVID-related inmate deaths, including three men who died due to the failure of the facility to adhere to social distancing measures, provide inmates with masks, keep the facility clean and distribute treatment to individuals who already had underlying respiratory issues.

The jail is also grossly overcrowded, making it that harder to control the spread.

In addition, the Department of Corrections reported that more than a third of the jail guards were sick on leave or medically unfit to work with inmates at one point in the summer.

The New York Times reported that only 36% of Rikers inmates are fully vaccinated, with the facility touting a higher seven-day average positive test rate than that of the city.

“How does this hell on Earth exist today,” said Hochul, who said that the crisis is “deeply disturbing” and that she wishes she had the legal power to implement the act now.

“This questions who we are as people that we can allow a situation that we’ve seen in Rikers exist in a prosperous, mighty city like New York. The fact that this exists is an indictment on everyone, and I’m going to do what I can,” she added.

The governor also announced that an additional 200 inmates, with less than 60 to 90 days left in their sentence, will be moved to another state facility.