The devastating Times investigation of violence at Rikers Island and yesterday’s chilling U.S. Attorney’s report on the same might make one wonder why the deteriorating conditions in the city’s jails didn’t send up red flags or set off alarm bells during, say, the 2011-2013 period covered by Preet Bharara’s probe.
The Bloomberg administration’s data did, in fact, hint at a growing problem. While they are only one window into what an administration is thinking and doing, Mayor’s Management Reports during the Bloomberg years showed a 20 percent increase in inmate fights between fiscal 2002 and 2005, a slight increase over the next four years, and then a 14 percent surge between fiscal 2009 and 2013. Guard uses of force jumped from 1,263 in fiscal 2005 to 3,413 in fiscal 2013.
All this occurred at a time when the number of admissions to the jails was declining—dropping 18 percent from 2009 to 2013.
And, it’s worth noting, Department of Correction staffing was declining too. Between 2002 and 2013, the department’s headcount decreased by 15 percent.
In its MMRs at least, the administration emphasized progress against violence, although there also were moments of candor about the growing trouble.
In 2009, for instance, the annual performance roundup for the Department of Corrections emphasized that “violence remained at historically low levels,” focusing on the relatively small number of stabbings and slashings. But it also noted that “Assaults on staff increased 7 percent from 427 to 457, while fight/assault infractions rose 10 percent from 6,109 to 6,696.”
In 2010, the “relatively low levels” of violence were emphasized again.
The following year, the DOC suggested it was aware of a rising violence problem, but believed it was getting on top of it. “The anti-violence initiatives that the Department implemented took hold and resulted in a measurable decrease in violent incidents during the last six months of Fiscal 2011,” read the department’s 2011 MMR narrative. ” These initiatives include both strategies to prevent violence and to aggressively respond to violent incidents that do occur. The rate of serious injury to inmates as a result of violent inmate-on-inmate incidents, decreased by eight percent from a rate of 1.3 in the first four months of the fiscal year to 1.2 for the entire fiscal year, and the rate of inmate-on-inmate violent incidents, which includes slashings/stabbings and inmate fights, decreased by one percent this fiscal year, when compared to Fiscal 2010. Fights among adolescents, the segment of the population most often involved in fights, decreased by 39 percent when comparing the first to the last six months of Fiscal 2011.”
In 2012, however the department was reporting increases in inmate-on-inmate violence and inmate attacks on staff, as well as a 20 percent spike in uses of force. The next year’s report suggested violence had held steady.
Dora Schriro, who was the Correction commissioner during the final Bloomberg term and now heads the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection for the state of Connecticut, responded to a CityLimits.og request for comment yesterday with the following statement:
“The young men and women who are remanded to custody both pre-trial and post sentencing are entitled to our continuous care. Throughout my tenure, we focused on improving conditions of confinement and preparing adolescents for release, reducing idleness, adding skill building opportunities, identifying and addressing the onset of mental illness among young adults, and reducing their time in segregation. These reforms also included securing funding by means of the country’s first social impact bond to provide after-school programming, moral-recognition therapy, for the population, delivered by community-based providers. Also during these years, there was an appreciable increase in referrals of staff to the inspector general for criminal prosecution for misconduct including excessive force. The city has grappled for many years with doing justice for those in the justice system and especially, its youngest offenders. Much has been done and still, there is much more to accomplish. There are good people in place to continue to make these improvements.”