NEW YORK — The city’s jail population has skyrocketed from 4,166 detainees to 5,986 in the last year while staff shortages are still severe because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with many correction officers calling out sick or simply not showing up to work.

What You Need To Know

  • The jail population continues to grow after hitting historic lows last year

  • Activists complain detainees are not living in safe conditions and want them released

  • Huge numbers of correction officers have been calling our sick or not showing up to work since the pandemic began

  • In May, a federal monitor deemed Rikers' disorder and chaos alarming

In early July, Department of Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi complained about just that.

“We have 1,400 people on any day calling in sick and 5,000 people not coming to work and not calling,” Schiraldi told NY1.

Schiraldi came to the job in May, when the previous commissioner resigned after a federal monitor stated in a report the pervasive level of disorder and chaos in the facilities was alarming.

That’s why Melania Brown, sister of Layleen Polanco, who died on Rikers Island two years ago, is asking Mayor Bill de Blasio to stop sending people to the jail complex.

“If there’s not enough staff and people are going to keep dying on Rikers Island, then let everybody go, and stop making these mass arrests, you know, because it’s sending people to their death sentence,” Brown said. “It’s a death penalty. For me, Rikers is a human slaughterhouse.”

The decarceration rally at City Hall this Tuesday was attended by five candidates expected to be members of the City Council next year.

Activists rally outside City Hall on Aug. 31, 2021, complaining detainees are not living in safe conditions and calling on them to be released. NY1/Juan Manuel Benítez.

Also there was Bronx State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who thinks public safety and reducing the jail population should go hand in hand.

“I want to be safe, I want the people I represent to be safe, I want the people in the Bronx and Westchester to be safe, and I also want them to understand the symptoms of why gun violence is spiking, and to be in conversation with each other, and to understand that overpolicing and incarcerating people is not the answer,” Biaggi said.

With four months to go before he leaves City Hall, Rikers is a long-standing issue de Blasio has not been able to fix.

“It is a very troubled system, it needs a lot of work,” de Blasio said on “Inside City Hall” on Monday. “We’ve invested a lot, but it still needs a lot of work.”

Rikers Island was set to close in 2026, but that plan has been delayed by at least a year.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story misstated how Layleen Polanco died. Polanco died after suffering multiple seizures, not from suicide. 


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