New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex has skirted time limits on holding people in temporary intake pens by tampering with records, documents shared with New York Focus show.
Under city regulations, the jail system must process and house people within 24 hours of them coming under its custody — a requirement set to ensure that they don’t languish in intake cells, which have no accessible bathrooms or beds and are notorious for cramped, squalid conditions.
But an email and attachment from a jail oversight agency official show that, during a two-day period in June, staff at Rikers Island’s main intake facility manipulated electronic records to push back the initial in-custody times for at least 17 new arrivals to the jail complex. In most instances, the tampering took place as the incarcerated people were approaching 24 hours in custody, suggesting that jail staff made the adjustments to avoid documented violations of the time limit.
The oversight agency — the New York City Board of Correction, which is tasked with regulating and monitoring the city’s correctional facilities — declined to provide comment for this article.
The city Department of Correction (DOC), which runs the jail system, said it is investigating the records alterations. “We hold transparency and integrity in high regard, and we will continue to hold staff accountable so that our jails are run efficiently and that people in our custody are safe,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
The Board of Correction documents — shared with New York Focus by the Legal Aid Society, which obtained them through a public records request — come to the fore as a judge mulls whether to place Rikers under temporary federal control. Sixteen people have died while in Rikers custody so far this year.
The revelations also come on the heels of recent testimony and uncovered photos from inside Rikers intake — some taken within days or weeks of the apparent record tampering — showing widespread misery and neglect: men languishing for days in packed cells, sleeping next to feces, defecating in their clothes.
“We are deeply concerned by this revelation, which appears to show DOC employees tampering with data that is used to monitor compliance with a court order,” said Kayla Simpson, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project and counsel on the lawsuit that may lead to a federal takeover of Rikers. “This seriously diminishes the credibility of the City’s public assertions that they have solved their long-standing problem of holding people for days in these uninhabitable areas.”
Carlina Rivera, chair of the City Council’s criminal justice committee, told New York Focus that the record tampering “will be investigated.”
“The report of manipulated data by the Department of Correction runs counter to the commissioner’s stated commitment to transparency,” she said. “No one should accept data that obscures mismanagement and neglect or covers up inhumane and dangerous conditions.”