LAS Details Humanitarian Crisis on Rikers Island

Corey Stoughton, Attorney-in-Charge for the Special Litigation Unit for The Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Practice, recently sat for an extended interview with New York Magazine to discuss the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding in the City’s jails.  At least twelve people have died in Department of Correction custody this year.

“It’s hard to find the words to describe how bad it is right now on Rikers Island,” said Stoughton. “I think most people understand that jails and prisons are not pleasant places. But this is a level of depravity and inhumanity that is really shocking to imagine happening in the greatest city in the world.”

She went on to detail the conditions facing New Yorkers who are currently incarcerated at the facility.

“You have people who are warehoused in large rooms for days and even weeks at a time with no toilets or showers, defecating on the floor, urinating on the floor. Not getting access to regular food or adequate water. And, for a population that has, really, an overwhelming number of medical and mental health care needs, not getting access to basic and necessary medical and mental health care,” she said.

“And so, that’s why we’ve seen [all the deaths] this year, two in the last week alone, and it’s because people who are sick can’t get doctors and die for lack of medical care, urgent medical care. And people who are in mental health crisis self-harming and even dying by suicide because basic protocols around mental health screening and self-harm prevention are not being followed.”

Stoughton called on those with the power to do so to remove people from Rikers, specially asking Mayor Bill de Blasio to take action. She also called on district attorneys and judges to stop sending people to City jails by requesting and setting bail.

“The question that people have to answer is: ‘What’s going to prevent the next deaths?’ And the only answer, the only real answer, is getting people out of this dangerous place.”

Read the full piece here.