Legal Aid Society


New Report Details Vermin Infestation on Rikers Island

The Legal Aid Society is condemning the New York City Department of Correction (DOC) over its long-standing failure to comply with consent decrees in Benjamin v. Molina, class action litigation Legal Aid filed in 1975 that challenged a broad range of environmental conditions and practices in the New York City jail system, including fire risks, sanitation deficiencies, and ventilation system concerns.

The court monitor’s latest progress report, which covers the period from May 2023 to August 2023, paints a dire picture of dangerous health and safety conditions in local jails, the most glaring being the proliferation of vermin including arthropods, mice, ants, flies, roaches, gnats, and drain flies. The Monitor, the Office of Compliance Consultants (OCC), notes that one particular building, RNDC meets the definition of an infestation because the vermin detected are at all stages of development and the building exhibits “[a]n overrunning or inhabitation of an area by large numbers of vermin or insects so as to be harmful or bothersome.”

Inspections conducted during this monitoring period recorded thousands of Benjamin violations of all types, including ventilation and fire safety, distributed across all jail facilities.

Moreover, the Monitor repeatedly cites DOC’s refusal to provide accurate and timely data, if any data at all, on a range of relevant topics, constraining OCC’s ability to produce meaningful reports. This is consistent with DOC’s general attitude against transparency under former Commissioner Louis Molina’s tenure.

“The recent report outlining DOC’s gross negligence in maintaining sanitary conditions in local jails is deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable,” said Lauren Stephens-Davidowitz, an attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society. “The alarming rise in observations of vermin has not only exacerbated inhumane living conditions, but poses significant health risks to the people housed in these facilities.

“Such conditions, including rampant infestations of mice, ants, flies, and roaches, are intolerable in any setting, including places of detention,” she continued. “Those who reside on Rikers deserve to live in conditions that respect their basic human dignity, and DOC’s current shortcomings in this area are a blatant affront to our society’s commitment to humane and just treatment of incarcerated individuals.”