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It’s Tuesday and One Way to Keep the Official Death Count Down at Rikers Is By Covering It Up

The DOC continues to be the DOC, and more of what we're thinking about today.

9:09 AM EDT on September 27, 2022

New York City Mayor Eric Adams tours facilities on Rikers Island on Wednesday, June 22, 2022.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams tours facilities on Rikers Island on Wednesday, June 22, 2022. (Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Officially, 15 people have died this year while incarcerated in the City's jails, but reporting from the New York Times reveals that the Department of Correction has done its best to conceal some deaths from the public record. In at least one recent death, DOC Commissioner Louis Molina intervened to keep a man's passing out of the DOC's official count of people who have died while in the City's custody. 

From the Times:

After learning that a man held at the Rikers Island jail complex had suffered cardiac arrest and was on the brink of death, Louis A. Molina, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, issued a directive to his subordinates.

"Make sure we do what we can," Mr. Molina wrote on Thursday in an email obtained by The New York Times, to ensure the man was "off the Department's count."

Hours later, after the man, Elmore Robert Pondexter, was granted a so-called "compassionate release" from detention, he was taken off life support and died at Bellevue Hospital. Because he had been freed, the Correction Department did not count his death as having occurred in its custody, issuing no news release and providing no notice to the city Board of Correction, a jails oversight panel.

As Pondexter's daughter Aquandra Morris told the Times, "At first we were happy he died with dignity, and we knew he wouldn't die a prisoner. But, then I thought about it—something is not right. They are trying to relinquish their responsibility."

In an emailed statement, Legal Aid condemned both City Hall and the DOC: "With each death this year, City Hall and DOC leadership have stonewalled the public and refused to provide timely and accurate information. The information provided by the New York City Board of Correction (BOC), the oversight body, suggests a reason City Hall has attempted such authoritarian control of information: the deaths in custody reviewed by BOC show a shocking incompetence and failure of DOC to carry out basic correctional duties."

New York City jails have been under federal oversight since 2015. Earlier this year, the Correction Department convinced a judge to allow the reforms planned by the Adams administration to take hold, rather than place the system into receivership and the day-to-day control of the federal government. The judge gave the City until November 17 for those changes to make a sufficient difference.

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