Correction officers and jail reform supporters clashed on Wednesday over a City Council bill to end solitary confinement in New York City city jails.
While correction officers argue that solitary confinement is necessary to discipline inmates who become violent, protestors chanted “End solitary now!”
At the rally, officers showed protestester pictures of brutal assaults by inmates arguing that the punishment is critical for disciplining inmates.
One correction officer, Keshia Williams spoke out about her trauma from being sexually assaulted by an inmate in 2016 while on the job.
“My assailant was given a slap on the wrist and even discharged the very next day,” Williams said. “While I on the other hand have been forced to relive the burden of that trauma every single day for the rest of my life.”
The sentiment is backed by current New York City mayor and former law enforcement Eric Adams. Though Adams was absent from the rally, he is linked to a number of unions in support of solitary confinement. “Sometimes violent prisoners need to be removed from the jail population to keep everyone safe,” Adams has said publicly.
Despite the mayor’s opposition, the bill is likely to become law, as it has 36 Council sponsors.
Rikers Island has been the center of many controversies throughout the years. The publicized death of Kalief Browder, a teen who dies after his release, after spending three years in Rikers Island, two of which were solitary.
Last week, NBC News obtained exclusive photos of shower stalls transformed into cages to lock prisoners in for hours. Two prisoners, who were previously held in the makeshift cells for hours, were among the 15 prisoners to die in the city’s jails this year. The shower stalls are actually decontamination showers meant to be used for washing off the chemical spray used to subdue prisoners in fights.
The showers stalls were first discovered following the death of Elijah Muhammad, who died in custody in July. Muhammad was locked in one of the shower stalls for six and a half hours this summer before the acting warden discovered him the shower cage with a ligature around his neck. Muhammad survive that suicide attempt but later he died of a Fentanyl overdose behind bars. His family blames the inhumane treatment of solitary confinement in the shower stall cage for aggravating his mental illness.
The Department of Corrections pledged to dismantle the shower cages.
Last year, sixteen people died in custody, making it New York City jail’s deadliest year since 2013. As of September 2022, sixteen people had died at Rikers. Lawmakers have called the conditions at Rikers ‘hellish.’