Henry Robinson says he spent three months on Rikers Island in 2017 for a minor parole violation.
“It’s terrible. It’s really bad. I was there where I had injuries,” said Robinson, a member of the Katal Center, a community organization dedicated to ending mass incarceration. “I got jumped by 15 people due to the negligence of the officers.”
He’s one of dozens who rallied outside of City Hall Wednesday, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to take immediate emergency action to close Rikers Island. Advocates are calling it a humanitarian crisis, stemming from a lack of proper staffing and management in addition to a rising jail population.
“What I saw when I went to Rikers Island was an island of death and decay,” said Phara Souffrant Forrest, an assembly member representing Brooklyn.
Mayor de Blasio has blamed the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, or COBA, for allowing too many officers to call out sick, creating a staffing shortage.
“To the officers who didn't show up and left everyone else in the lurch and endangered their fellow officers, you should be ashamed of yourself,” said de Blasio at a press briefing Wednesday. “To the union that aided and abetted mass absenteeism, you should be ashamed of yourself, which is why we are bringing a legal action against you.”
The union maintains officers are being seriously injured while working under extreme duress. The city has hired additional officers and suspended some of those who have not shown up for duty.
The mayor says the city is also working to alleviate overcrowding. But with no less than a dozen inmate deaths this year, Robinson says it amounts to too little too late.
“People is in there. Watching people dying, being sick. No beds for months and things that. Everybody at Rikers Island is traumatized at this very moment,” said Robinson.