Injury Claims at City Jails up 114 Percent Since 2009, Comptroller Says

By Eddie Small on August 20, 2014 3:47pm 

 Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Comptroller Scott Stringer.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

RIKERS ISLAND — Claims against the city's Department of Correction for injuries that occurred in city jails have shot up by 114 percent over the past five years, according to a new report from the city Comptroller's Office.

And the amount of money paid out by the city to settle those claims has also risen by about 30 percent to $8 million.

A total of 2,245 personal injury claims were filed in fiscal year 2014, compared to slightly more than 1,000 in fiscal year 2009, according to the Comptroller's Office.

"This rise in claims activity corresponds to a rise in the number of serious allegations of violence at Rikers," the report says.

It was not immediately clear how many of the claims stemmed from inmates or guards.

The office linked the drastic increase in claims to the growing number of inmates in DOC facilities with mental health issues and the growing use of solitary confinement.

Facilities at Rikers that have seen sharp spikes in claims include the Anna M. Kross Center, the Otis Bantum Correctional Center and the George R. Vierno Center, which houses inmates who require the highest levels of security.

However, claims at facilities including the Adolescent Reception Detention Center, the North Infirmary Command and the Rose M. Singer Center have remained stable or declined, the report says.

The amount of money paid out for the chas also risen in the past five years, increasing by 34 percent from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2014. Settlements and judgments have gone from just under $6 million to just over $8 million.

"Given the increase in claims filed between FY 2011-2014, it is likely that cost to the city — whether from claims settlements, litigation costs, or judgments — will rise accordingly in the coming years," the report says.

Comptroller Scott Stringer said in a statement that the report showed how several claims impact "the most vulnerable within our city's jails — people languishing in solitary confinement and with mental illness."

"We're a city that prides itself on being tough on crime," he said, "but we also have to be fair to those in our jails."

DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte has been candid about the need for changes at the department, saying they will reduce violence and improve care for mentally ill inmates, a DOC spokesman said.

The DOC is speeding up putting cameras in jails, adding specialized housing to better take care of mentally ill inmates and putting in housing with enhanced supervision for its most violent inmates, the spokesman said.

"These significant reforms will take time to yield results," the spokesman said in an email. "Problems that accrued over the course of many years cannot be resolved overnight."

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