September 20, 2021


Sam McCann, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (
Sarah Duggan, Brooklyn Defender Services (
Emily Whitfield, The Bronx Defenders ( )


(NEW YORK, NY) – Department of Correction issued a press release late last night announcing yet another death in its custody. This latest death brings the department’s death toll to people in its custody to 11 in the last  year.

Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, Brooklyn Defender Services, and The Bronx Defenders issued the following statement regarding the latest death:

“We are outraged that yet another person has been killed because of  the illegal conditions causing a humanitarian crisis on Rikers Island. It is unconscionable that the District Attorneys in New York City and judges who preside in the arraignment court callously and wantonly request and set bail.  They continue to funnel additional people into Rikers Island by setting bail or insisting on short jail sentences for people who could be released or sentenced to non-jail penalties. They have the power to stop these deaths: DAs can stop seeking bail, judges can stop setting it, and they can consent to defense requests  to secure release of people trapped in  proven deadly conditions. Instead, since Thursday there has been an increase of 44 people held in DOC custody pre-trial. 

We visited Rikers last week with elected officials, and one visitor decsribed it as ‘the worst thing I’ve ever seen.’ We and our elected leaders saw New Yorkers held in windowless, 2×6 shower cells, forced to use a plastic bag for their own waste. We saw what amounted to a COVID-pit in which positive people were thrown back in with people who were negative and people whose status is unknown. We even saw an attempted suicide, and watched his cellmate be pepper sprayed for drawing attention to it.

After that visit last week, we were unambiguous: every day Rikers remains at its current population is a decision on the part of District Attorneys, judges, and Mayor de Blasio to risk the lives of anyone forced to be in inhumane conditions that are publicly known and indisputable. More people  will die and thousands more will suffer from lack of medical care and lack of food and be forced to live in squalor and human waste if our elected officials do not take immediate action to help reduce the population of Rikers immediately and stop sending people there.  On Friday, Governor Hochul signed the “Less is More” law and ordered the release of 191 people, a move in the right direction. This is a relief for those individuals and their families, but it is not nearly enough to relieve the suffering of the remaining almost 6,000 people who remain trapped on Rikers.  The onus remains squarely on Mayor de Blasio to use his authority to release people under Corrections Law 6-a, and on elected and appointed judges and District Attorneys to radically alter their bail practices while simultaneously not opposing the release of those held inside. 

Rikers is deadly and we lost another life last night. Our jails  will continue to take more lives and cause untold suffering and harm if those who have the power to stop it continue to show indifference to the suffering of people forced to stay there due to bail they cannot afford. New York City residents should not allow their elected officials to perpetuate the continuation of this avoidable tragedy.”