New York City lawmakers questioned correction and health officials about how to reduce violence and provide better care for a growing mentally ill inmate population in the nation’s second-largest jail system, which a population of 11,000, in an oversight hearing yesterday, the Associated Press reports. Commissioners of correction and health and mental hygiene detailed what they can do better to reform a jail system that advocates, lawmakers and even the department of correction commissioner himself have called troubled.
“These long-term trends, years in the making, are clearly unacceptable, and reversing them is my top priority,” Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who started running the $1 billion agency in April, said of the violence. “But as a correction professional with 40 years’ experience, I must assure you that the process will not be quick. And it will not be easy.” The AP has reported on two grisly deaths of inmates with psychological problems in the Rikers Island jail. City statistics show that 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. The number of inmates with a mental health diagnoses has soared as the jail population has declined, rising from 24 percent of the nearly 14,000 inmates in 2007 to about 40 percent of mentally ill inmates today.