THE BRONX, N.Y. — Correction officers protested outside Rikers Island on Monday over what they described as dangerous working conditions.
AIR11 was over the scene around 2:45 p.m. as several hundred people gathered outside the jail complex holding signs.
A Correction Officers Benevolent Association spokesperson told PIX11 News the protest was not a walkout of on-duty guards. It was not immediately clear if inmates were left alone.
In a tweet on Monday, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association urged retired and off-duty city Department of Correction members and their families to join the protest.
“We’re calling on ALL retired and active, off-duty DOC Uniformed members and your families to meet COBA at the bridge on Monday, August 16th at 3PM. We’re joining forces with our union brothers and sisters from across NYC and we will make our voices heard!” the union tweeted.
The tweet also included a flyer that suggested members of the Correction Captains’ Association and Assistant Deputy Wardens Association would also join the protest.
“We need safer jails now. Enough is enough! City Hall has failed to protect us. Their reckless policies have put our lives in jeopardy,” the flyer read.
COBA filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Correction in Queens Supreme Court last month, calling conditions for officers at D.O.C. facilities nothing short of a human rights emergency requiring immediate attention.
The complaints include back-breaking triple shifts of 24 hours or more, with few breaks or access to food and water, shortages of PPE to protect against COVID-19, and increased violence against officers and within the inmate population.
Veteran nurse Paulette McGee has spent 20 years working at Rikers in what she described as an environment of constant fear.
“We are now faced with urine being thrown at us, knives held to our neck,” McGee said. “I was assaulted in 2018: punched so hard in my jaw I was knocked out straight on my back.”
Joseph Russo, who’s with he Assistant Deputy Wardens Union, said inmates get away with things all the time. He said they’re not afraid to commit crimes and acts of violence behind bars.
“Our hands are tied. We cannot defend ourselves,” Russo said. “We’re here because of conditions on Rikers are outrageous; this is a chaotic gangland controlled area.”
According to COBA, a correction officer was assaulted by a known gang member with a history of jail violence on Aug. 5. The inmate asked the officer to remove garbage from his cell and when he did, the inmate “brutally assaulted” the officer, took his keys, opened another cell and stabbed another inmate, according to the union.
It was the latest incident in what COBA says is a pattern of violence against correction officers at the jail complex. The union claims inmate assaults against correction officers are up 23% so far this year.
June Jackson recently retired after 21 years of service as a correction officer.
“It’s a nightmare not just for staff, but for uniform members, for medical staff, even inmates, no one is safe behind those gates at Rikers Island,” Jackson said. “Officers are leaving in droves. Every day you have numerous members of service quitting or retiring due to assaults on staff.”