BRONX, N.Y. (PIX11) – Elected officials made an unannounced visit to Rikers Island on Monday morning.

The visit comes after a dozen Department of Correction-related deaths this year. Officials were looking to inspect the conditions inside the jail to see if there has been any improvement from their visit last year, which was planned.

They had positive news to report following the surprise visit and said conditions have greatly improved, but pointed out that it doesn’t mean they want Rikers to stay open. The visit was to make sure there’s transparency from the DOC.

The elected officials who made the trip include New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, New York City Council Member Carlina Rivera, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

“When I came here a year ago it was simply atrocious,” Williams said. “It looked like a jail that was on the brink of simple disaster.”

They say there’s been meaningful progress since their last visit in September of 2021.

“We did see folks who were, what was previously considered solitary [confinement], now outside a lot more getting programs,” Williams added. “They described it as being much better conditions, feeling in much better conditions.”

Those programs include puzzles and art therapy. The elected officials say inmates tell them they’re now getting seven to 10 hours spent outside of their cell after multiple deaths were reported in solitary confinement. 

The trio visited four facilities and spoke to several incarcerated and detained individuals, along with employees. The most consistent complaint was about people not getting their medication.

“It was said that 60 percent of the folks coming in have some kind of mental health condition,” Williams said. “We did see places on Rikers that seem to be doing the best they can to provide medical care, but that is not a place that people should be having medical care.”

Staffing shortages are also still a big concern.

“One of the first conversations we had was with a [correction] officer who said very, very plainly that nobody is showing up to work,” Rivera said.

Correction officers are working doubles – an improvement from last year when triple and even quadruple shifts were the norm. There’s also a widening time period of people awaiting trial on Rikers.

“I talked to a man whose been eight years at Rikers awaiting trial on a [second-degree murder] charge, but had he plead on a [second-degree murder] charge eight years ago, he would’ve long been out,” Lander said.

This visit comes just one week after the city comptroller’s office launched a Correction Dashboard to track Rikers data, including violent incidents and missed medical appointments.

“Transparency requires more than charts and graphs,” Lander said. “There [are] just critical things that you can’t know if you don’t come see it for yourself.”

Rivera plans to introduce legislation next month to ban solitary confinement.

The elected officials also say they don’t want positivity from Monday’s visit to translate to wanting to keep Rikers open. They want Rikers to shut down and don’t want the culture of the facility to follow to the smaller borough-based jails plan.