Another NYC Inmate Dies as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Other Dems Demand Rikers Close

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and fellow Democrats are demanding that New York City's Rikers Island jail complex close after another inmate died Wednesday, according to the city's Department of Correction.

The inmate, whom the department said died after what appeared to be a medical emergency, was at least the 12th to have died in one of New York City's lockups this year and the second this week, the Associated Press reported.

Ocasio-Cortez and Democratic Representatives Jerry Nadler, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velázquez on Tuesday sent a joint letter to New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio calling for the inmates' release and Rikers to close, AP reported. In the letter, they called the jail's conditions "deplorable and nothing short of a humanitarian crisis."

The dead inmate was housed in the Vernon C. Bain Center, a floating jail barge across the East River from Rikers. He was transported to a hospital after appearing to be in medical distress, and was pronounced dead there at about 10:50 a.m. ET, the Department of Correction said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Dems Demand Rikers Island Closing
New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and fellow Democrats are demanding that the Rikers Island jail complex close after another of New York City’s inmates died Wednesday. Above, a sign marks the location of the Rikers Correctional Center in the East River on March 9, 2021, in New York City. Gary Hershorn/Getty Images

Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said he was "devastated to see that we have yet another death in custody, and determined to stop this heartbreaking trend."

"We are doing all we can to remedy the unprecedented crisis we are experiencing in our jails. My thoughts and prayers are with the individual's loved ones," Schiraldi said.

The Department of Correction did not identify the inmate by name, pending notification of next of kin. The cause of death is under investigation by the city medical examiner's office.

The Bain Center, a five-story jail stacked on a 625-foot (190.5-meter) barge, opened in 1992 as temporary relief for crowded city jails. Since then, it has been criticized for overcrowding.

The city's jail system, troubled by years of neglect, has spiraled into turmoil during the coronavirus pandemic with a spike in inmate deaths, violence, self-harm and staff absences.

Most of the trouble has been concentrated on Rikers Island.

On Sunday, Rikers inmate Isaabdul Karim, 42, died at a jail infirmary after reporting he was not feeling well, officials said. He was given CPR but he was later pronounced dead.

At least five Rikers inmates have died this year by suicide, the most there since 2005.

The chaos has led to growing calls to overhaul or immediately close Rikers Island, which the city has said will be shuttered by 2027.

Last week, de Blasio announced reform plans including requiring a doctor's note if a jail guard is out more than a day and suspending guards 30 days without pay if they don't show up to work. Hochul signed a bill largely eliminating jail for technical parole violations.

Meanwhile, the city and jail union continue to battle over staff absences. On Monday, the city sued the union, alleging it condoned or encouraged employee sickouts, constituting an illegal strike.

Union President Benny Bocio Jr. called the lawsuit "meritless" and "fact-less" and said it was de Blasio's "latest desperate and pathetic attempt to shift blame from himself for the humanitarian crisis he created on Rikers Island and the mess he created throughout the city."

The union is also balking at de Blasio's plan to send private security guards to Rikers so that 150 correctional officers who currently guard the complex's perimeter could be moved inside the jails.

The union says such a move would violate a union-backed state law that prohibits the city from replacing public jail employees with private guards. De Blasio said it would only be a temporary, emergency fix.

"This is an emergency dynamic," de Blasio told reporters Wednesday. "Until this moment has passed, we're going to use whatever tool it takes to keep people safe."