By Rachel Vik
A Bronx Supreme Court judge ruled Tuesday that the city has 30 days to show that it is no longer violating an order to bring Rikers Island inmates to medical appointments. If they don’t, the agency will face a $100 fine for every missed medical appointment since Dec. 11, 2021.
The contempt order was issued the same day the Department of Corrections was required to present an action plan addressing conditions inside the prisons to prevent the facility from being placed under federal control.
“Today, the Court recognized the city’s flagrant failure to fulfill its obligation to provide incarcerated individuals with prompt access to medical care,” the Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Defender Services and Milbank LLP said in a joint statement. “This failure has caused undue suffering, leading to lasting health effects and even death.”
“We hope this contempt decision will bring some relief to people denied access to the medical care they desperately need. But our clients deserve so much more,” they added. “The DOC has proven time and time again that ‘he lacked the ability and the will to respect basic human rights.
The city owes about $190,900 to those affected by the prison’s inability to provide services, according to LAS. The DOC will also have to pay the attorney’s fees and costs associated with filing the petition.
The petition was filed in February 2022 after the DOC failed to produce evidence that it provided access to medical care at city jails, and DOC facilities operations chief Ada Pressley said in court that the rate at which they were receiving medical care was not in compliance.
“In my opinion, I believe that this rate of production does not constitute substantial compliance with relevant guidelines for providing timely access to clinics,” Pressley said in his affidavit.
Although Pressley and others testified that the DOC had attempted to comply, Judge Elizabeth Taylor’s May 17 ruling found that “good faith attempts to comply with a court order do not constitute not a recognizable defense to a motion for contempt” and that “the record is devoid of any evidence of the defendant’s factual impossibility to comply.
Twenty inmates have died in DOC custody since January 2021 – a number of those deaths are thought to be related to a lack of medical care.
The lawsuit alleged that the inmates were being denied medical care due to staffing issues on the island. People incarcerated must be taken to a medical facility by a corrections officer, however, thousands of officers have been walked out sick or AWOL every day since the summer of last year.
The decision aligns with Tuesday’s deadline for the agency to submit a clear action plan to institute the changes the Federal Monitor has repeatedly described in reports, and days after Mayor Eric Adams said announced the creation of a task force to resolve the issues.
Check back with the Eagle for more on the city’s plan to fix the Rikers due in court Tuesday.