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What Its Like at Rikers, According to People Who Just Got Out

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The ongoing violence and despair that defines Rikers Island reached a grim milestone last week when the tenth death of the year was reported. Even after multiple visits from elected officials and a flurry of Twitter threads, op-eds, and letters from Congress, the situation continued to deteriorate: An 11th person — Isa Abdul-Karim, 42, who was one day shy of qualifying for release — died on Sunday, and a 12th person died Wednesday at the nearby Vernon C. Bain Center jail. At least half of the deaths this year have been suicides.

Much of the chaos is linked to the crowded intake area of the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, one of eight jails on the island, where new admissions are processed. People are only supposed to stay there for 24 hours before being transferred to cells or dorms, but many are currently being held in intake for weeks at a time in filthy, packed cells. In a belated attempt to address the problem, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday announced the jail would add two additional intake clinics and open an additional housing unit to ease the overcrowding. Understaffing — largely the result of what is believed to be an organized sick-out — is also a serious problem. The city reported an average of 2,304 absences per month this year, compared with 773 per month last year.

Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Less Is More Act last week, which immediately released nearly 200 people being held on nonviolent technical parole violations and will trigger the transfer of 200 more people to a state facility in the coming weeks. But as of mid-September, more than 5,000 people are still locked up on Rikers.

We spoke to........

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