New York City’s Department of Corrections has pulled the plug on its announcements of inmate deaths inside the city jails.
The New York Post reported that the decision came just after the release of a recent special report from the federal monitor appointed to oversee the city’s handling of its jails.
The oversight team requires the department to notify them when a detainee dies, including the person’s name, housing facility, and time of death. However, the department has been accused of failing to report at least five in-custody incidents, including death and beatings, over the past two weeks alone.
One inmate was include Rubu Zhao, 52, who allegedly jumped to his death from an upper tier of a specialized unit for people with mental illness at Rikers on May 14. Joshua Valles, 31, died on May 27 after suffering a fractured skull. Initially, officials identified Valles’ death as a heart attack.
After two years, the department is no longer informing the media when an incarcerated person dies. But it will continue reporting to the department’s health affairs unit, special investigation team, chaplain, and legal team. The city’s medical examiner will be informed, as will the state attorney general’s office and the state’s Commission of Correction.
In a statement, NYC Comptroller Brad Lander expressed his disapproval of the decision, blasting DOC leadership for not caring about the “humanity of the people in its custody enough to even report honestly when they die,” as reported by the Post.
“I think it’s part of a series of attempts to isolate the jails from scrutiny to control the narrative,” said Kayla Simpson, staff attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society, The City reported.
For months, legal aid, several citywide elected officials, and jail activists have called for an independent manager or a receiver to oversee the city’s jails instead of the Department of Correction.
On the other hand, Mayor Eric Adams questioned the monitor’s accuracy and defended Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina, Fox 5 New York reported.
“Commissioner Molina has been amazing,” Adams said, per the news outlet. “I support him to do the job I hired him to do and whatever methods he needs to do it within the boundaries of not violating any laws or rights of people.”