NYSNA Applauds Gov. Kathy Hochul for Taking Steps to Improve Conditions at Rikers Island

For Immediate Release: Sept. 20, 2021
Contact: Carl Ginsburg | press@nysna.org

NYSNA Applauds Gov. Kathy Hochul for Taking Steps to Improve Conditions at Rikers Island

New York – Days after a group of legislators toured Rikers Island and called conditions there inhumane, and after NYSNA member Alicia Butler testified before New York City Council on conditions there, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the Less Is More Community Supervision and Revocation Reform Act. The measure was sponsored by Assemblywoman Phara Souffrant Forrest and Lt. Governor Brian Benjamin when he was in the state Senate. The bill modifies the standard of evidence when determining whether to revoke community supervision of a person on parole. Due to a collaboration with the Department of Corrections, the measure also allows incarcerated individuals who have been sentenced to at least 90 days to be transferred from Rikers to New York state correctional facilities. At least 191 people will be released from Rikers due to the law.

Citing the importance of safe and effective staffing, NYSNA applauded the move. “Safe staffing protects health care professionals, patients, correctional officers and detainees,” said NYSNA President Nancy Hagans. “Although union members organized, rallied and won a baseline safe staffing law for hospitals and nursing care facilities, we cannot call our work complete until staffing is addressed at correctional facilities.”

NYSNA member Alicia Butler, a registered nurse who has worked at New York City Health+Hospitals Correctional Health Services-Rikers Island for 19 years, elaborated on inadequate staffing at Rikers during testimony before New York City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee:

“We have staffing shortages throughout Rikers,” Butler said. “With an estimated 2,000 officers out on leave, workers are not safe doing their jobs. Those remaining officers on duty must work triple shifts. The tremendous staffing shortages cause delays and prevent patients from receiving the health care services they need, including mental health services.”

“Between July and September of 2020, the self-injury rate for detainees nearly doubled that of the previous quarter,” Butler continued. “We had over 500 incidents of detainees hurting themselves between April and June 2021. Needless to say, there is a mental health crisis amongst detainees that needs immediate attention. But access to that care is routinely denied. The fact is that patients are unsupervised and this leads to altercations by detainees with nurses and other staff. Nurses at the mental health unit feel unsafe and unprotected. We are very vulnerable in these conditions.”

For more information or to receive Butler’s full testimony, e-mail Carl Ginsburg, press secretary for NYSNA, at carl.ginsburg@nysna.org.

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The New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) represents more than 42,000 members in New York State. We are New York’s largest union and professional association for registered nurses. For more information, visit nysna.org.

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