Deplorable, overcrowded conditions return to Rikers Island reception center

The Rikers Island reception center is overflowing with inmates spending days in small, smelly stalls with little supervision — just like the previous reception facility, which was closed just nine months ago for the same violations, the Board of Correction announced Tuesday.

The Eric M. Taylor Center, where most new DOC admissions are now processed and quarantined before being assigned to a residential area, has been overrun by inmates who oppose the violating city regulations.

“The reception area, the reception facility, the reception room was full of screaming people. … Some have been there for days,” said BOC board member Bobby Cohen, who visited the facility last week during a Tuesday public meeting.

“There were over 100 people crammed into pens without basic, basic services. Dirty pens with no place to urinate in a urinal.”

Cohen said the sheer “volume” of people lacking access to medicines, clothing, bathrooms, phone calls and transportation to their court dates is overwhelming.

“In the pens, people cannot go to court. … This is the post-indictment period and they’ll probably have to go back to court in the next day or two and there’s so much chaos there that they can’t go to court,” he said.

The Eric M. Taylor Center on Rikers Island has poor conditions and is overcrowded, according to a Board of Correction member.
The Eric M. Taylor Center on Rikers Island has poor conditions and is overcrowded, according to a Board of Correction member.
Dennis A Clark for the NY Post

“It’s hard to say because I’ve been to a lot of prisons and had many, many visits, but it was really scary. …I’ve never seen anything so chaotic in the department.”

Conditions are strikingly similar to last year in the reception area at Otis Bantum Correctional Center, where inmates languished for days without access to food, water, toilets and other basic services before it closed in September.

Pictures of the unit, revealed by The Post, showed dozens of men crammed together on floors covered in human excrement as they waited for days to be assigned a bed – a process the city’s Justice Department completed in 24 hours must complete.

When OBCC’s admissions closed in September, admissions were moved to EMTC, but nine months later, conditions there have deteriorated, as have the facility, due to staff shortages and a population that has increased 22% since March.

An overcrowded cell at Rikers Island's Tis Bantum Correctional Center last year.
An overcrowded cell at Otis Bantum Correctional Center on Rikers Island last year.
OBCC was shut down in September due to bad conditions.
OBCC was shut down in September due to bad conditions.

Incidents of uniformed staff using violence against inmates have been higher than the department-wide average at the facility every month of the year so far, according to board member Freya Rigterink. Year-to-date, such incidents are up about 6%, DOC Commissioner Louis Molina acknowledged.

The average rate of slashing and stabbing injuries at EMTC this year is also higher than the department-wide rate, and in three separate incidents in May detainees in unsupervised residential areas were injured so badly they were hospitalized, Rigterink said.

Additionally, Cohen noted that most new DOC recordings are not subjected to body scans upon arrival to look for drugs, weapons or other contraband, adding to overall security concerns at the troubled prison complex, which has been housing six people so far this year have died in custody.

BOC Board Member Bobby Cohen visited EMTC and reported seeing it "Over 100 people crowded into pens."
BOC Board Member Bobby Cohen visited EMTC and reported seeing “more than 100 people crammed into pens”.
Photo by ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

The facility, which sees about 45 new admissions daily, conducted just 40 body scans for the entire month of May, Cohen said.

Just seven body scans were conducted in the first 12 days of June, Cohen said.

“They try to prevent drugs and guns from entering the facility but they do very little about it. You have a great tool and it’s not being used,” he told Molina.

He noted that the EMTC Overseer is aware of the issues and when asked what was being done to fix the issue, Molina, the DOC Commish did not deny that there was a problem.

“Currently, EMTC is the facility best suited to handle new admissions. The CDC continues to recommend that correctional facilities maintain isolation and quarantine procedures and remain agile in the event new variants emerge and additional precautions need to be taken,” Molina said in response.

“We recognize that we are not yet where we want to be in terms of personnel, I have said that several times.”

He noted that incidents of violence at EMTC had fallen significantly in March and April from a year earlier, but that they rose again in May after “resources” were diverted to other facilities where high rates of violence were occurring.

Board members said the deteriorating conditions are creating an unsafe situation for both staff and inmates, which experts say will eventually lead to higher crime rates from recidivism.

“EMTC is an unsafe, gated facility that the city reopened two years ago to ostensibly stop the spread of the coronavirus,” Wanda Bertram, communications strategist at the Prison Policy Initiative, told The Post. “Two years after its reopening, we can see that what has always been true of prisons is also true of EMTC: it is failing to keep hundreds of people safe.

“The only way the city can stop this never-ending cycle of prison overcrowding is to reduce the prison population, which means stopping unnecessary incarceration.” Deplorable, overcrowded conditions return to Rikers Island reception center


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