Judge orders better access to medical care on Rikers Island

Judge Elizabeth A. Taylor ordered the New York City Corrections Department to give people incarcerated in city jails better access to medical care. In a court ruling filed Monday, the Bronx judge ruled that city prisons must ensure that inmates can attend on-site clinics at least five days a week and within 24 hours of a request for visit. The judge also asked the prison authorities to guarantee enough security personnel to guide them to and from the medical visits.

The order follows a court request from a group of public defenders and lawyers seeking better terms for clients who have regularly missed medical appointments as hundreds of prison guards continue to call sick or skip work.

“After this tragic year, when at least fourteen New Yorkers have died on Rikers Island and other local prisons, we are grateful that the court has taken swift action to order the DOC to fulfill its obligation to provide thousands of New Yorkers who remain in prisons with access to medical care, ”said Veronica Vela, supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, one of the groups behind the lawsuit.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said the agency “fully” agrees that “health care is a human right” and is doing its best to ensure that this right is met. respected. “While COVID and associated personnel issues have challenged us, we are determined to provide services to those entrusted to us to the best of our ability,” the agency said.

According to the latest publicly available data, between July and September this year, prison health authorities recorded more than 18,000 cases in which inmates were not presented for regular service. Correctional service complaints that in many cases detainees “refuse” to attend medical examinations. But advocates counter that the agency’s inability to bring staff to work has caused routine service outages.

“Every day we hear about people in distress, in need of both emergency and routine medical care, and yet these calls for help regularly go unanswered,” said Brooke Menschel, director of civil rights and law reform at Brooklyn Defender Services. “The results are devastation, suffering and death. “

Several deaths of prisoners in the city’s prisons are due to “natural causes”. Some families and advocates believe the inability of the prison system to provide timely and adequate medical care in overcrowded environments has contributed to these deaths.

In September, Stephan Khadu, 34, died at Lincoln Hospital after being transferred from the Vernon C. Bain Center, a floating prison barge in the Bronx near Rikers Island. Khadu’s family believe his death was due to seizures he began to suffer during his imprisonment over the summer. The family blames the conditions of detention for the deterioration of his health. Lezandre Khadu, Khadu’s mother, says that even after his hospitalization after seizures in July, prison authorities returned him to his cell rather than to an infirmary where he could be regularly monitored.

“Why would you want to put him back in that same cell?” There is no air, there is no ventilation, ”she said.

Corrections declined to comment on the case, which is currently under investigation trial.

A few days before Khadu’s death, Isaabdul Karim, 42, died after telling authorities he was not feeling well. His lawyers say he previously contracted COVID-19 while waiting in a prison admission area for ten days, although his exact cause of death is unknown.
In October, Victor Mercado, 64, died at Elmhurst Hospital after contracting COVID-19 on Rikers Island, according to his lawyer.

“While the DOC is still unable to comply with this ruling, it does not have the power to detain, and the city and state must act immediately to release those in its custody to avoid new suffering, ”Vela said.

A spokesperson for Corrections Health Services, the agency in charge of medical care in the city’s prisons, declined to comment for the story.