Council Pounds Chest After Major Hike in Rikers Funding

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley. (Photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

The City Council is celebrating today after extracting almost $33 million in funding to combat violence and mental illness at Rikers Island.

The dollar figure, which was larger than any other of the priorities announced in the $75 billion budget agreement last night, came after a tense oversight hearing this month into how the city is addressing the rising levels of violence in city jails.

“Last week’s NYC Council oversight hearing highlighted the troubling state of DOC’s [Department of Correction] current ability to manage the rise in violence and mentally ill inmates at Rikers Island. The addition of $32.5 million in funding to combat violence and mental illness at Rikers in this year’s budget deal marks a tremendous victory for the safety of all inmates in our jails, Correction officers, and for advocates with whom I have fought tirelessly on this issue,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley in a statement.

“With skyrocketing overtime costs and a growing mentally ill inmate population that requires very specialized care, we still have a lot work ahead of us,” she added, calling the funding a “huge step.”

Ms. Crowley, a Queens Democrat who chairs the council’s committee on fire and criminal justice, and other council members repeatedly pressed for the funding throughout negotiations this week with the de Blasio administration. The push came as reports and statistics surfaced about the rising level of crime and inmates with mental illness at Rikers Island: between 2010 and 2013, use-of-force incidents have increased by 59 percent, from 1,871 to 2,977; slashing and stabbing incidents doubled, from 34 to 58; and assaults on staff jumped by 30 percent, from 500 to 646, according to Department of Correction statistics.

At the same time, the number of inmates with a mental health diagnoses jumped as the jail population declined, Joseph Ponte, Mr. de Blasio’s DOC commissioner, testified earlier this month. Mr. Ponte was brought on by Mr. de Blasio to help reform the city’s sprawling jail system after having success with a much smaller system in Maine.

It’s not immediately clear what specific programs or resources the funding will be applied towards. More details will become public when the City Council votes on a budget next week.