March 3, 2015 – Regular reporting on the physical and mental health of people incarcerated on Rikers Island and the provision of care prisoners there receive will take New York City a step closer toward addressing the violence that plagues the jail, according to testimony to be delivered today before the New York City Council.
“The systemic failure to address the health care needs of those incarcerated on Rikers Island – a population challenged by mental health and medical issues so severe that they shouldn’t be incarcerated in the first place – exacerbates the culture of brutality that plagues Rikers Island,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “That culture itself is inexcusable and has to be met head on, but at the same time it must be acknowledged that corrections officers are simply not prepared or trained to deal with the level of suffering they are forced to confront at Rikers. Defining the magnitude of the problem will be a crucial first step toward ending it.”
In its testimony, the NYCLU called for the swift passage of Intro. 440, legislation that will permit the city to better assess the number of individuals detained at Rikers who suffer from mental health or medical conditions so serious that they should never be incarcerated and should instead be diverted to a more appropriate therapeutic setting. The data will also permit a long overdue comprehensive assessment of medical and mental health care at Rikers that can be used to inform sweeping improvements in the quality and delivery of that care, a critical component for addressing the excessive and punitive use of force by correction officers against individuals who are suffering from a lack of adequate mental health treatment.
The NYCLU’s testimony also offers recommendations to clarify and expand the reporting requirements, including amending the bill to clarify that any agency involved in the delivery of health care must be required to collect and report relevant data; adding the reporting of key demographic data, including race, age and gender; and reporting on training of correctional staff on health care matters.
To read the NYCLU’s complete testimony and recommendations, click here.