STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — “I thought some of the comments made by my colleagues were hyperbole, but I can report to you it is not hyperbole,” Councilman Joe Borelli (R-South Shore) told NY1 Friday morning as he reflected on his recent tour of Rikers Island.
The councilman joined Queens Councilman Bob Holden and Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt for a tour of the jail complex on Thursday and was stunned by what he witnessed.
“The conditions are appalling for correction officers and inmates alike and worse than people imagine. This is my third or fourth visit to the facilities there and there is a clear deterioration,” Borelli told the Advance/SILive.com.
The councilman asserted that some of the dire conditions were a result of decisions made by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“The mayor must answer for why he scrapped the already in progress construction of a new 1,500 bed facility to replace the current deplorable intake facility at the Otis Bantam Correctional Center, and why he failed to hire correction officers for over two years while many work triple tours and foot posts go uncovered all day in every jail,” Borelli said.
Last week the mayor introduced his five-point Emergency Rikers Relief Plan to address overcrowding and infrastructure issues at the facility. De Blasio’s solutions to account for a shortage among correction officers on Rikers are to shift court staffing, move corrections officers out of courts and onto the island ,and fill their posts with NYPD officers.
Borelli called on the mayor to take more action during a press conference with former congressman Vito Fossella on Tuesday, saying that pulling cops off the street is not the answer.
ELECTED OFFICIALS HORRIFIED BY RIKERS ISLAND CONDITIONS
The councilman is among a number of elected officials who have recently toured Rikers. Attorney General Letitia James said she was “deeply disturbed” by what she saw during her tour with local elected officials – including Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, and Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez – on Tuesday.
Another group of officials – more than a dozen state and local elected officials – toured Rikers last week with similar comments about being appalled and disturbed by the conditions.
State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) described the facilities as “hellish” and said that Rikers Island is a “humanitarian crisis.”
Assembly member Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas (D-Queens) and State Senator Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) reported witnessing an inmate attempt suicide during the tour.
WHY HASN’T THE MAYOR VISITED RIKERS?
Mayor de Blasio has recently faced criticism for not visiting the city’s largest jail complex in four years.
When asked why visiting Riker’s Island doesn’t seem to be high on his to-do list, the mayor replied that he is more focused on addressing the issues at the facility first.
“The work is being done in different ways, working with members of my team, working with the state. We’re getting a lot of results done. That’s where my focus is now. I’ll be touring it, but I want to get more of these places and these pieces in place first before I go out there,” said de Blasio during his media briefing on Thursday.
The mayor also noted that he is seeing progress reflected by new changes, such as a decrease in intake timing and an increase in corrections officers’ attendance.
The heat on de Blasio intensified later on Thursday after the mayor hosted Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, along with Governor Kathy Hochul at the World Trade Center Observatory.
“I couldn’t imagine hanging out with Harry and Meghan when you have people in your custody that are dying from a lack of staff,” Borelli said during a press conference at Rikers.
The mayor changed his tune on Friday telling WNYC radio that he plans to visit Rikers next week.
“I think it’s time because we’ve been able to address a number of issues, and I want to see if these solutions are working or other things we have to do,” said de Blasio.