(NEW YORK, NY)Brooklyn Defender Services, The Bronx Defenders, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, and Queens Defenders released the following statement following the death of William Brown in Department of Correction custody. Mr. Brown was the 16th incarcerated person to die in New York City in the last year:

“Our city’s jails are deadly. Mr. Brown’s death today, the second in the last five days, is the result of DOC’s failure to protect the health and safety of people in its custody.  That failing continues to be compounded by the refusal of our elected officials – the mayor, the governor, district attorneys and judges – to do everything in their power to address the humanitarian crisis at Rikers and reduce the jail population in response to a mounting death toll. Their apathy to the lives of all those held on Rikers will kill again if left unchecked. 

While we are still learning details about Mr. Brown’s death, we know plenty about the deadly conditions in which he was held. A federal monitor described the jail as succumbing to ‘disorder and chaos,’ and noted that conditions have progressively worsened. We hear  horror stories from the people we represent every day, and we have witnessed firsthand people stuffed into tiny cells – or even shower stalls – forced to defecate into bags, wary of COVID and terrified that they might be the next person killed by these conditions. 

In fact, one person attempted suicide in front of us on a visit this September. 

The very real risk of death is part and parcel of Rikers Island at this point, and it is a risk judges and DAs have apparently deemed acceptable as they continue to send droves of New Yorkers into its cages every day. Last week alone more than 270 new people were sent to Rikers, bringing the total to 5,423 people – 82% of whom are being held pre-trial or on technical parole violations. We demand judges and DAs stop gambling with people’s lives. They must stop seeking and setting bail in virtually every eligible case. 

Sending people into cages because they cannot afford the price of their freedom has never been about public safety.Not only are people held on Rikers part of that public, but the overwhelming majority would be free if they could simply afford bail. 

As DOC continues to be responsible for more death and suffering, those who continue to put more New Yorkers in its custody bear responsibility for these deaths.” 


Sam McCann, Communications Specialist, NDS
Phone: (212) 316-7399
Email: smccann@ndsny.org