NEW YORK — Around 200 detainees at the Rikers Island jail facility continued a dayslong protest Tuesday, refusing food provided by the Department of Correction.
They’re frustrated by conditions at Rikers, which has been plagued by violence, inmate deaths and staffing issues.
Their protest, which started Friday, was described as a hunger strike by Chris Boyle with New York County Defender Services. A DOC spokesperson disputed that categorization, noting that while detainees were “refusing institutional food,” they were eating commissary food.
“The warden is engaged with them and addressing their concerns, and our employees have been working tirelessly to keep our facilities and all who work and live in them safe,” the spokesperson said.
Boyle said he received voicemails from two inmates last week about the situation: one from a client and one from another detainee. He was at Rikers waiting to see another client, so he arranged to meet with the protesting client who’d called him. Boyle asked the client to pass his cellphone number around to other protesting detainees so they could call him about the issues.
In the days since, he’s received upwards of 15 calls, Boyle said.
“There was a flurry of hope that the word was getting out,” he said.
Detainees told him they haven’t been getting recreational time. They’ve said they haven’t been getting access to medical or mental health appointments. Detainees described black mold in the bathroom.
As temperatures plummeted around New York, they said their dorms at Rikers are freezing.
“They’re feeling awful,” Boyle said.
Inmates and correction officers alike have protested conditions at Rikers. Mayor Eric Adams named Louis Molina, who oversaw jails in Las Vegas, as head of the much-maligned DOC. Molina now oversees the city’s 10 jail facilities.