CBS2 goes inside Rikers Island to see how the Corrections Department is trying to change things – CBS New York


NEW YORK (CBSNew York) – The Manhattan District Attorney advises prosecutors not to seek bail for certain non-violent offenses that could put someone on Rikers Island.

This comes as alarms have been issued about the conditions there.

READ MORE: Mayor De Blasio slammed for not speaking to inmates and correctional officers during visit to Rikers Island

A federal judge has ordered significant changes to Rikers Island and other New York City prisons. The emergency ordinance requires the city to immediately develop an interim security plan to address the ongoing issues.

CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas got an exclusive inside look to see how the Corrections Department is trying to turn the tide.

The city did not allow cameras outside the main office on Rikers Island during this crisis until Wednesday.

CBS2 was limited in where we could go and we weren’t allowed to talk to inmates on camera, but we were able to spend hours with the commissioner and others in the field and have them respond to some of the many concerns.

Flanked by the clergy gathered on Rikers Island, Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi read the names of the detainees who died in custody and offered an unexpected apology.

“On behalf of myself, the department, New York City, and the corrections community, I apologize for the mass incarceration,” he said.

With just three months on the job, the commissioner is under immense pressure to do what his predecessors were unable to do, as deaths, violence and staff shortages have put the department under the microscope.

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On Wednesday, he called the clergy to start the rehabilitation process with a paintbrush in the compound that houses young adult inmates.

This is where the violence is worst.

“We hope to change for the better by improving conditions for them, by adding programs, by physically rehabilitating this space,” said Schiraldi.

Extra hands helped renovate vacant housing.

“I paint. I try not to, uh, uh, just go through all the thoughts that were in my head when I was here,” said volunteer Seneca Soler.

For Soler and her mother, Elsa Valentin Mendez, their service was personal. Soler was previously incarcerated at Rikers.

“Seeing this little cell they’re in, it breaks my heart,” said Valentin Mendez.

READ MORE: New York congressional representatives call on President Biden to intervene in Rikers Island crisis

“You made mistakes, but you survive. Your mindset is survival. Everything is survival, ”Soler said.

The Corrections Department cleans one wing at a time. Adding a new coat of paint, new cell doors and new furniture is only part of the plan.

“A dedicated staff who always work with the same young people every week so that they get to know them, their problems and how to help them. Morning, noon and evening programs, ”said Schiraldi.

The aim is to fight violence – but is it enough?

“With the elected leaders who have come in the last few weeks, they come back with horrible stories, with excrement on the floor, of people being held up in showers. Why is it so bad? asked Cline-Thomas.

“I’m ashamed of what these lawmakers saw, but I’m not just going to be ashamed of myself. My job is to fix things, ”said Schiraldi.

The return to work of correctional officers was at the heart of all the solutions.

Rahman Telfair is part of the majority who never left.

“We don’t come here to mutilate anyone. We come here to do our job and feed our families, ”he said. “This agency works. It really is. As long as we are given the tools and the ability to do our jobs, we will work and do what we are supposed to do.

This work has come with increasing criticism.

“The number of employees we have here has increased. The number of people incarcerated here has decreased and this allows us to do a lot more, ”said Schiraldi.

It is work that is the last effort to save all hope for the future.

“There are so many more here who need this help and encouragement,” said Valentin Mendez.

Cline-Thomas spoke to an inmate who has been on Rikers Island for 16 months and asked him what he thought of all these efforts. He said it was good, but it’s still jail.

Cline-Thomas also asked the commissioner what he would say to people who watch the story and think it’s just a facade or a show-and-tell. He says he wants to be judged not by what he says, but by his results.

NO MORE NEWS: Mayor De Blasio visits Rikers Island amid mounting pressure to sort out conditions for inmates and correctional officers

Both changes have only been in place for about two weeks, so only time will tell. The question is, how much time do they really have?

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