NYC Inmate's Death Ties 2016 Total of 15 as Jail System Faces Myriad of Problems

New York City inmate Malcolm Boatwright's death ties this year's total inmate deaths with the 2016 total of 15 as the city's jail system faces widespread problems.

Boatwright, 28, was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan from Rikers Island jail complex on Thursday for a medical issue, the city's Department of Correction said. Officials said he was pronounced dead Friday just after 5:30 a.m.

In a statement, Corrections Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said that Boatwright's death "is a heartbreaking loss at the end of a very difficult year. My deepest sympathy goes out to Mr. Boatwright's loved ones."

Boatwright was jailed on Nov. 12 after he was arrested on charges of sexual abuse. He was supposed to have a court appearance Monday and was also going to be sentenced in a 2013 case, both in Brooklyn, according to court records.

Officials said they will announce more details after an investigation concludes.

The New York City jail system faced trouble earlier this year when Democratic members of the city's Congressional delegation called for a civil rights investigation into its jail in a letter to President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland back in September, according to The Associated Press.

"We cannot continue to allow Rikers Island to deteriorate to the point that it is no longer a safe place for those in custody or those who work in the jails," AP reported the representatives saying.

That same month, there was an emergency conference call regarding the situation, according to the AP. U.S. District Judge Laura Swain said the Rikers Island jail complex is "clearly in a state of danger and crisis."

AP also reported lawyer Mary Lynne Werlwas, the director of the Prisoners' Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, said the situation "is an urgent matter of life and death and it needs relief today."

New York City, Issues, Jail Systems, Deaths
The situation at Rikers Islands was under fire earlier this year, as Democratic members of New York City's Congressional delegation called for a civil rights investigation into its jail in a letter to President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland back in September. In this photo is Rikers Island, home to the main jail complex, which is situated in the East River between the Queens and Bronx boroughs as shown on Oct. 19, 2021, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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.

There were seven inmate deaths in 2020, three in 2019, eight in 2018 and six in 2017, according to the Department of Correction.

Of this year's deaths, at least one man died soon after being granted compassionate release from jail. Another was taken off life support after attempting to hang himself in a holding area at Manhattan Criminal Court.

This week, the union representing city correction officers filed a lawsuit, seeking to block the city's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for municipal employees. Jail workers faced a Nov. 30 deadline to get at least one vaccine dose or face suspension without pay.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

New York City, Issues, Jail Systems, Deaths
During the pandemic, New York City's jail system has had increased deaths, violence, self-harm, and staff absences. In this photo, the group Survivors of Rikers, family members of inmates and jail reform advocates gather outside of City Hall to demand reform at the Rikers Island jail on Oct. 12, 2021, in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images