A number of politicians have been fighting to address these chronic issues, but for awhile, it seemed that even legal intervention was not going to lead to positive change.
That is, until a number of members of the City Council unexpectedly paid a visit to the detention center last week and found that conditions in the facility, though still far from perfect, had improved.
Council members Daniel Dromm, Jumaane Williams, Mark Levine and Elizabeth Crowley all visited Rikers Island unannounced to see the state of the facility after administrative changes were made in the Department of Corrections.
What they found, they said, was encouraging. After examining the Rose M. Singer Center for female detainees and the Robert N. Davoren Center for male detainees, the politicians said that it appeared that the facility was in much better condition, particularly compared to their last visit to Rikers back in April.
“Our unannounced visit to Rikers Island revealed that the Department of Correction is moving in the right direction,” Dromm said. “Compared to what I saw during my other trips, there seems to be progress at the school for detained male adolescents and at the facility for pregnant women.”
Williams agreed with Dromm, saying that his previous visits were “much more discouraging as the facility seemed to dehumanize many of its inmates.”
The council members noted that the East River Academy, located in the men’s facility, has made serious improvements through renovations and new technology in classrooms.
Rikers Island's solitary confinement center, however, remains an area of strong critique. Council members also questioned the medical treatment given at the George R. Vierno Center and said that the facility needs serious renovations.
“During this trip I was concerned about several issues with the solitary confinement center that I plan to further investigate,” Williams said. “Additionally, several female inmates told me issues they had with medical staff and some inmates said their dietary needs were not being met.
Noting that this is a “long process,” the politicians said that they would continue to look for more improvements at the city's main jail complex in the future.