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A woman holds a sign at the #whatabouther rally in support for the women being held at Riker's Island. Photo: Michael M. Santiago via Getty Images

The crisis at New York City's Rikers Island jail complex has spiraled out of control during the coronavirus pandemic, and doesn't look like it will improve anytime soon.

Why it matters: The infamous complex was already dogged by years of neglect and dysfunction when the pandemic hit. COVID has led to several inmate deaths, even worse staffing shortages, deprivation of food and medical care and failures in guard accountability.

  • Reports from a court-appointed federal monitor show a sustained pattern of mismanagement, including "poor operational practices," inability to responsibly supervise staff and "avoidable" use of force against inmates.
    • At one point in the summer, over one-third of the city’s jail guards were on sick leave or medically unfit to work with inmates, according to AP.
    • New York Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas (D) said she witnessed an attempted suicide while touring the facilities. "The conditions on Rikers are inhumane," she tweeted. "We need action."
    • Self-harm and suicides have climbed in the past year among NYC inmates, The City confirms.
    • Ten Rikers inmates have died this year, at least five by suicide, the New York Times reports. It's the jail's highest death toll in years.
  • The crisis has led to protests calling for inmates' release.

Worth noting: Most Rikers inmates are Black and Latino, The Guardian notes.

The big picture: Mayor Bill De Blasio announced new reforms this week in an effort to fix infrastructure issues and tighten absence policies for guards.

  • Even so, some officials are scrambling for plans to close Rikers by 2026, per AP.
  • "New York, like the rest of the country, locks up far too many people for no good reason," the New York Times Editorial Board wrote this week, calling for De Blasio and state leaders to back bail reform.
  • "It’s time for Mr. de Blasio to visit Rikers Island again and to show the inmates and guards, by his presence, that he cares about alleviating the atrocious conditions they live and work under. They are part of this city, too."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Go deeper

Oct 20, 2021 - Health

White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5–11

Charles Muro, 13, is inoculated at Hartford Healthcare's mass vaccination center at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday released its plan to vaccinate children between the ages of 5 and 11, pending authorization from the FDA of the first COVID-19 shot for that age group.

The big picture: The White House said it has secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of school and community health clinics, and tens of thousands of pharmacies to administer the shots.

Oct 22, 2021 - Health

CDC director: U.S. may change definition of "fully vaccinated" as boosters roll out

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday the U.S. "may need to update" its definition for what it means to have full vaccination against COVID.

The big picture: The CDC and the FDA have officially approved boosters with every authorized vaccine in the U.S. for people who meet specific requirements. Walensky explained that since not everyone is eligible for a booster, the definition has not been changed "yet."

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Fauci fires back at Rand Paul for slam on tonight's "Axios on HBO"

Responding to charges by Sen. Rand Paul on Sunday's "Axios on HBO," NIAID director Anthony Fauci told "ABC This Week" that it's "molecularly impossible" for U.S.-funded bat virus research in China to have produced COVID-19.

Why it matters: The issue 0f Wuhan research was reignited on the right last week with a National Institutes of Health letter to Congress disclosing more about the research.