Oversight Committee Urges NYC Mayor to Address Mental Health Crisis at Rikers Island
Washington, D.C. (April 8, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Committee Member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, sent a letter to New York City Mayor Eric Adams requesting an update on plans to improve conditions at Rikers Island, including efforts to increase access to mental health treatment for detained individuals, and alternatives to incarceration while protecting public safety.
“As the second largest jail system in the nation, New York City jails are home to a significant number of individuals experiencing mental illness. On Rikers Island, nearly half of the population—approximately 48%—has received ongoing services for a mental illness during their jail stay. Fifteen percent of the overall New York City jail population has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness—with nearly one in five women and one in ten men entering the City’s jails with a serious mental illness. Despite these troubling statistics, New York City jails often lack adequate mental health services, which has contributed to unsafe conditions for detainees and staff working within the jail complex,” the Members wrote.
The Members commended Mayor Adams for taking steps to address mental illness and homelessness in New York City, including his support for specialized care units at Rikers for individuals with mental illnesses, and urged continued collaboration to ensure that individuals at Rikers receive the mental health treatment they need.
“At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Mayor’s office, courts, district attorneys, and the defense bar were all able to significantly reduce the Rikers population by using alternatives to incarceration. Yet serious problems at Rikers persist, with thousands of people—nearly half of whom suffer from mental illness—languishing in a facility plagued by persistent overcrowding and mounting violence. These conditions raise Eighth Amendment and civil rights concerns that may need to be addressed through federal action,” the Members concluded.
On September 27, 2021, Chairwoman Maloney, Chairman Raskin, and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez launched an investigation on the deteriorating conditions and jail operations on Rikers Island after reports and firsthand accounts indicated a collapse in basic jail operations, uninhabitable conditions, and a spiking number of in-custody deaths at Rikers.
On November 22 2021, the Members sent letters to five New York City District Attorneys requesting briefings on ways to address the overcrowding and unsafe conditions at New York correctional facilities, including Rikers Island.
Today’s letter requests a briefing by April 22, 2022.
Click here to read the letter.