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Hundreds at Rikers Protest Conditions, Citing Covid and the Cold

Last year was the deadliest in New York City’s jails since 2013, with 16 people dying after being held in custody. Their deaths came amid a sharp rise in absenteeism among correction officers which began in 2020 and has continued into this year. At a Board of Correction hearing on Tuesday, a staff member for Mr. Molina, who was appointed the city’s Correction Commissioner in December, said that 2,300 of the close to 9,000 staff members are currently out sick.

“The morale of our staff is at an all-time low,” Mr. Molina said.

Christopher Boyle, a lawyer with the New York County Defender Services who represents some of the incarcerated people who are currently protesting, said in an interview that the situation at Rikers Island had deteriorated since last year.

“This is an emergency situation,” he said.

Michael Tatum, 51, said that he had already been in several fights since being arrested in October on a charge of third-degree burglary. Like a number of others interviewed, he expressed concern about Covid-19, which has surged at Rikers in recent weeks. Like other detainees, Mr. Tatum said that the beds in his dormitory were only a foot away from one another and that it was impossible to remain hygienic.

A number of those interviewed complained about the cold. Arian Medina, 26, said that he was wearing as many thermals, hats and other articles of clothing as he could to stave it off.

“People are going crazy in here,” Mr. Medina said. “They’re losing their minds.”

Raheem Ford, 62, said that he had missed multiple court dates, and there were not enough staff members working to escort detainees to essential appointments. He described unsanitary conditions including black mold in the bathrooms and mildew on the carts that were used to serve food.

“It should be taken over by another agency,” he said.

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