NEW YORK (AP) — An inmate on a New York City jail barge died Wednesday after a medical emergency, the city’s Department of Correction said. It is at least the 12th death of a city inmate this year and the second this week amid what some elected officials and advocates have deemed a “humanitarian crisis” in the city's lockups.
The Department of Correction said in a statement that the inmate at the Vernon C. Bain Center, a floating Bronx jail across the East River from the Rikers Island jail complex, appeared to be in medical distress and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 10:50 a.m.
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 identified the inmate as Stephen Khadu, who had been held on a second-degree murder charge since December 2019. The cause of death is under investigation by the city medical examiner’s office. City officials had conflicting information on Khadu's age, but placed him at being in either his 20s or 30s.
The Bain Center, a five-story jail stacked on a 625-foot (190-meter) barge, opened in 1992 as temporary relief for crowded city’s jails. Since then, it’s 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.
More city jail inmates have died this year than in any of the past three years. There were seven deaths in 2020, three in 2019 and eight in 2018, according to the Department of Correction.
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 later pronounced dead.
At least five Rikers inmates have died this year by suicide, the most 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.
On Tuesday, Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jerry Nadler, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velázquez sent a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Bill de Blasio, demanding the release of inmates and closure of the complex.
They called conditions at the jail “deplorable and nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.”
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.
Also Wednesday, the city withdrew a lawsuit filed Monday that accused the union for jail guards of condoning or encouraging employee absences in what the city said was an illegal strike.
The lawsuit was dropped after the union's lawyer agreed to make a statement in court declaring that officers who are fit for duty should show up to work and that the union has never instructed anyone to not show up for work or call out sick when they're not ill.
Benny Boscio Jr., the union's president, called the lawsuit “frivolous” and demanded the mayor visit Rikers Island. The city's lawyers credited the lawsuit with forcing the union to encourage officers to show up to work.
Meanwhile, the union continues to balk 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 be only 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."