The number of prisoners who killed themselves while in the custody of the city’s Department of Correction in 2021 is more than the past five years combined, according to data released Thursday by a federal monitor.
From January to September this year, five people in DOC custody committed suicide, compared to a total of four from 2016 to 2020, the federal monitoring team for the troubled Rikers Island wrote in a status report filed in Manhattan federal court.
In a footnote, the monitoring team included the caveat that one of the five suicides in 2021 happened after the inmate was granted compassionate release and two others were still being reviewed by the city Medical Examiner.
In the report, the monitors, lead by Steve J. Martin, wrote that they remain “gravely concerned” about the dangerous conditions at city lockups — and were unconvinced that the leadership of the DOC has the compentency to remedy the situation.
“The Monitoring Team remains concerned about whether Department leadership possess the level of competency to safely manage the jails,” they wrote.
“More specifically, an insular workforce that has very limited exposure to best practices is at a significant disadvantage in advancing reforms,” they added.
In their own status report filed Thursday, the attorneys for the city said they had deployed suicide prevention aides, who are also incarcerated individuals, to “various housing units” to prevent inmate deaths.
“As of October 7, 2021, there were approximately 88 SPAs in place across various housing units,” they wrote.
In September, Martin said at a court hearing that he reviewed an incident at Rikers when officers in direct line of sight of an inmate who was attempting to hang himself did nothing to prevent the suicide attempt.
The monitoring team has recommended an external securities operations manager to help solve what they’ve deemed a “state of emergency” on Rikers Island.
There have been a total of 12 deaths in city DOC custody so far this year, which include the five suicides, six medical conditions and one overdose, according to the monitor’s data.
Safety issues and staffing concerns that have plagued Rikers Island for years exploded this year.
Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio responded Wednesday by vowing to move 200 women and transgender inmates to state-run prisons to help alleviate problems.
“These actions will further help ease staffing concerns, capacity constraints, and improve safety for several hundred detainees until such time that the city can identify and implement a permanent solution that will bring justice to the situation at Rikers,” Hochul said.