Monday, September 27, 2021



Mayor Bill de Blasio: I'm going to give you a couple of minutes of updates, followed by a minute from Commissioner Schiraldi, a minute from Deputy Commissioner Richards, a minute from Chief Stukes, and a minute from Dr. Katz. So, you're going to get the whole lineup of people who are addressing these issues.  


Here's the bottom line, we’ve got a lot changes we have to make. And what I came here to see was the work that is being done to immediately address the problems. Hold on, guys – what's going on over there? Are you good over there or not? No, back behind you, I keep hearing a lot of talking. Are you good back there? Everyone good? Okay.  


The mission for me today is to come and see the specific changes that are being made to address the immediate problem. Let me give you an idea of what those are. First of all, we’ve got to reduce the inmate population. So, I was looking at the places where that reduction is happening, what it is causing in terms of improving the situation for officers and inmates alike. We have a lot of additional actions we're going to take in the next few days. As I said, our goal is to get overall population down under 5,000 for the jail system very, very quickly. Second – guys, you good over there or not? Hello, over there – are you good or not? Okay, guys, please, I really want to go through this fast so everyone could hear us. So, everyone, focus for a second.  


Second, we needed to make sure that the health care teams are getting the support they need. Their role is crucial. They need to be supported. They need to be safe. We talked about the changes they need in terms of staffing, in terms of the physical reality, additional help we can bring in, that was a crucial component of this. Third, the intake process – the intake process has to be sped up. We looked at the facilities, looked at the changes that have been made, the changes that have to be made. The bottom line is all these things have to happen immediately. Fewer inmates, a faster intake, a better, more secure health care situation, and getting back to work the folks who have not been working. And I think that message has been received loud and clear. We want to support the officers who are doing the work. We care about them. We appreciate them. We're going to support them, incentivize them, give them real support. But the folks who are not doing their job are going to suffer the consequences, because they're letting down their fellow officers and everyone in this city. So, that's abundantly clear.  


The final point, what we have to do – we can't do it today, we can't do it tomorrow, but what we have to do as quickly as possible in this city is get off Rikers Island once and for all. That plan is in place. It is moving rapidly. That is the bigger solution. This is not a place that should continue for the long haul. We need to move these community-based jails. They are – they will be humane. They will be modern. They will be an environment that's right to rehabilitate people. That work can happen quickly enough. But, in the meantime, we're going to keep driving down the population and making the other changes we need.  

Now, in order again – Commissioner Schiraldi, Deputy Commissioner Richards, Chief Stukes, Dr. Katz. 


Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, Department of Correction: Hello, everyone. I'm Vinnie Schiraldi, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction. And I want – I think for those of you who know me, I've established a record for being blunt and forthcoming. I want to say that when I got here, I was really upset by the conditions that were in existence in these facilities. I still think we have a way to go. But over the last several weeks, when the Mayor has been putting enormous resources into this and enormous pressure on me and our department to make things better, things have demonstrably improved. I still think we have a lot of work to do and we're going to do that work, but triples are down, sick leave is down, AWOLs are down, the population is down. And now, every – every living unit has programming available to them in units. We can't get them all out to rec, because we still don't have enough staff to take them outside to recreation, but they have in-unit recreation available to them. And these are exactly the kind of conversations I have with the Mayor. He said, what's it going to take, Vinnie? What do we got to do? And we said, everybody needs to have the ability to have rec. And everybody's got the ability to have rec now. And we said, the population has got to decline. They called the Governor, she signed Less Is More, she started taking people out of here, and the population’s declined.  


So, if we have fewer people incarcerated here, if we have more staff coming to work, if we have help from places like the New York Police Department, NYPD, then we'll be able to, bit by bit, gradually reduce triples. And then, we'll start to improve even further, because we'll start to be able to create the kind of environment we want for everyone who's here. Our goal is nothing short of, if my son or daughter worked here, what would the environment I would want to be like? And if my son or daughter was incarcerated here, what conditions would I want for them here? We are not there yet, but that's our goal and we'll never stop for anything short of that. Thank you. 


First Deputy Commissioner of Programs and Operations Stanley Richards, Department of Correction: Good afternoon, everyone. I’m Stanley Richards, First Deputy Commissioner of Programs and Operations. As Commissioner Schiraldi said, we work every single day to try to improve conditions, make sure people are connected to programming so that people can rebuild their lives so they don't have to come back here. And as a formerly incarcerated man who spent time in HDM, the facility that's right behind this facility, we moved our office out here, because we knew that this work wasn't about being at distance, it was about being up close and personal. And I want to thank the Mayor and the First Deputy Mayor for being bold and leaning in and saying that it's not good enough what we've done. We've done some things, but we need to do better, because at stake are the lives of our officers and lives of those who are incarcerated and their families. And we work every single day to make it better. So, thank you. 


Chief of Department Kenneth Stukes, Department of Correction: Good evening, everyone. Chief of Department Kenneth Stukes. I would just like to – first, thanks to Mayor and his office for their support to the agency, for giving us the support that we need to create a safe and secure environment. And a safe and secure environment is just not for our person in custody, but for our staff. And it's important that we acknowledge our staff who, throughout COVID has championed and came to work every day. And some of those staff members who became ill, after getting well, returned back to work. Definitely, we will be – remain a correctional department that is one that is leading the country. 


Mayor: Thank you, Chief. Dr. Katz? 


President and CEO Mitchell Katz, Health + Hospitals: Hello, everyone. Dr. Mitch Katz, the CEO of Health + Hospitals. We’re responsible for the medical care of all the inmates on Rikers. We have great doctors and nurses. In order for the system to work, though, we have to have a close partnership with Corrections, so that our staff are safe to provide the services in the clinic, safe to go out into the areas where the inmates are and provide them with the care, and that the areas where patients-inmates come in through intake, they are safe from being exposed to infectious diseases. And there was clearly a problem with the previous intake area. It was too small. It did not allow us to move inmates quickly through the process so that we could be sure that people were not exposing each other. Thanks to the Mayor and to the Commissioner, we now have a new intake area, which is much larger, allows excellent flow of patients-inmates, make sure that they're not spreading communicable diseases like COVID. Thank you.  

Mayor: We have, every step along the way, tried to fix the problems here. When I came into office, there were immense problems here. We were able to fix a number of them, but we also have a massive, massive challenge with COVID that honestly setback so much of what we had done. The bottom line is, we're fixing the problems again. But, most importantly, we've done the big things we need to do, which is get off Rikers once and for all.


Mayor: I was upset when I took office. I was upset four years ago. I remain upset. This is a place that should have been shut down a long, long time ago.

Mayor: Additional hiring. Okay, the – we're hiring more because now we are calling into question on the officers we have. Folks need to understand that they have to come to work, they have to support each other, or they're not going to be a part of this organization anymore. We're bringing in additional officers to make sure that we will have enough under any situation. In terms of 6A, we're going to literally announce the exact number as soon as we have it. But I'm telling you right now, it's not going to be a large number. It is a different environment now than when we were dealing with COVID in the worst of the COVID crisis in the spring of 2020. So, we're going to balance public safety with what we have to do here. But the bottom line is, more and more officers are coming back to work. That's going to allow us to do a lot more here. We're making investments. This is going to take some real work. I couldn't be blunter about this, but I also see, and I'm going over the numbers with these folks every single day, and I want to give this team credit, this is a very difficult circumstance, but they are making changes rapidly, and that's how we address this situation.  


Mayor: Thank you. So, in conclusion – look, we've got a hell of a lot of work to do. I want to be very clear about that. The last few weeks we've been able to change some things that needed changing immediately, but there's a huge amount more work to do. We're going to stay focused on it. I have daily calls with this group. We're going to make every change we need to. Most importantly, get that population down, get people back to work, end the triples – these are all things we intend to do in October, that can make a very big and real impact. Thank you. 

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