Two weeks after paying a surprise visit to Rikers Island, Councilman Bob Holden (D-Middle Village) introduced a bill that would cap the shifts of correction officers at two back-to-back tours of duty.
Staffing problems, from injuries and AWOLs to the lack of new hires in the last two years, have led to guards on Rikers being forced to work 24 hours straight or more in order to fill all posts.
Holden, who visited Rikers on Sept. 23 with Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-Staten Island) and state Sen. Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R-Lockport), said in a statement issued last Thursday that it is unreasonable and unsafe to ask correction officers to continue the practice.
“Ending the unreasonable triple and quadruple tours of correction officers is a single but critical step toward ending the humanitarian crisis at the Rikers Island jail complex,” Holden said. “Officers cannot effectively and safely do their jobs under these working conditions, as they fight their own exhaustion in this nightmarish environment, and it has made the facility more dangerous for both inmates and officers alike.
“The administration has repeatedly failed to take action, so the council must.”
Holden’s bill would legally define a correction officer’s tour of duty as “8 consecutive hours”; cap assignments at no more than two consecutive tours; and prohibit the assignment of hours upon the completion of back-to-back shifts.
In an accompanying statement, Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains’ Association, praised the bill — and launched a full broadside barrage at Mayor de Blasio.
“The men and women that don the uniform each and every day on Rikers Island have been not only abused and assaulted by inmates; they have been abused and neglected by the current administration, starting from the mayor,” he said. “The mayor has deliberately allowed the deterioration of Rikers Island as part of his efforts to have it closed. He is the sole reason why we are suffering the devastating conditions everyone has read about and seen in the news each and every day.”
Staffing, health and sanitary concerns, Covid-19 and inmate processing times were among the many items on the agenda at a recent hearing before the state Assembly’s Committee on Correction, chaired by Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows).
News reports cite contraband, violence and even takeovers of some parts of the jail by inmates as ongoing problems.
Benny Boscio Jr., president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, last week followed up on testimony he gave before Weprin’s committee in a statement accompanying Holden’s press release.
“While the staffing shortages in the city’s jails originated during the pandemic, it was exacerbated by Mayor de Blasio’s refusal to hire more Correction Officers, even as our workforce shrunk and the inmate population rose steadily,” Boscio said. “As a result of this mismanagement, our officers have been forced to work triple and quadruple shifts without meals and rest. No municipal workforce comprised of essential, first responders, should ever have to be subjected to these inhumane working conditions.”
Boscio said he is committed to advancing legislation introduced in Albany by state Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island, Brooklyn) that would ban triple shifts at the state level.
Joseph Russo, president of the NYC Assistant Deputy Warden and Deputy Warden Association, commented, “This is the most challenging time in the history of the NYC Department of Correction. Now more than ever we need the help of men and women with influence who are willing to speak out and take action on behalf of our correction officers. Triple tours must be ended.”
De Blasio and the Council have passed legislation that would close Rikers and replace it with neighborhood jails in Kew Gardens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn.
Neither the mayor’s press office nor that of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) responded to requests for comment on whether they would consider supporting the bill.