NEW YORK (AP) — New York City lawmakers will press correction officials at a specially-called oversight hearing to detail how they plan to quell rising levels of violence in city jails — and what they plan to do to better treat a growing mentally ill inmate population, according to a city council member.
Joseph Ponte, who started as head of the nation's second-largest jail system in April, can also expect to provide specifics Thursday on how he'll "turn the tide" on Rikers Island at a hearing that also will be attended by council members from the mental health and health committees, said Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the City Council's committee on fire and criminal justice.
"What we're trying to find out is, why is it that every year the violence goes up and what is the new commissioner's plan to turn the tide?" she said.
Ponte told city lawmakers at a budget hearing last week the Department of Correction is "deeply troubled" and stressed that no one individual can change the system.
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 statistics.
At the same time, the number of inmates with a mental health diagnoses has soared as the jail population has declined, accounting for about 24 percent of the nearly 14,000 inmates in 2007 to about 40 percent of the roughly 11,000 inmates today, Ponte testified last week.
The hearing comes following reports by The Associated Press detailing two grisly deaths of inmates with psychological problems who were housed in similar mental observation units in the same Rikers facility.
The AP was first to report on suspicions of a mentally ill former Marine's February death inside a 101-degree cell. A city official speaking on the condition of anonymity told the AP then that Jerome Murdough "basically baked to death." His family, who said the veteran suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, plans to file a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit.
And last month, the AP detailed the September 2013 death of 39-year-old inmate Bradley Ballard, whose family said was diagnosed with schizophrenia who died after sexually mutilating himself while locked up alone for seven days. His death was recently ruled a homicide.
Prosecutors are investigating both deaths.
Mayor Bill de Blasio last week announced the formation of a task force charged with rethinking how the correction system treats the mentally ill — both in and out of jail.