Rikers sees higher rates of mental health charges and serious crimes, report finds – Queens Daily Eagle
Rikers sees higher rates of mental health charges and serious crimes, report finds – Queens Daily Eagle

By Jacob Kay

Two separate populations at Rikers Island have grown more than any other over the past decade — detainees diagnosed with mental health problems and those facing felony charges, a new report has found.

In a study released by the Independent Budget Office on Tuesday, the IBO said no other group saw the same population explosion on Rikers Island over the past 10 years — which the report described as an “extremely volatile period” — except those in need mental health treatment and those facing some of the most serious charges.

Not only do gangs make up a much larger portion of the city’s jail population than a decade ago, they also stay behind bars much longer, on average.

“The composition of DOC prisons has changed dramatically,” the report said. “Two groups in particular make up a much larger proportion of the DOC population than before: those charged with the most serious criminal charges and people identified by DOC as needing mental health treatment.”

The new data comes as the future of Rikers Island remains murky, in large part because of its population, officials say.

Not only is the total jail population — which was about 6,200 in February 2024 — too large to transfer to the 4,160 beds currently slated to be built in the city’s four jails, but Mayor Eric Adams and his administration were blamed by lawyers and lawmakers for doing little to reduce the prison population through programming or addressing the lack of mental health treatment.

In fact, the Adams administration recently revealed that it plans to reduce the number of mental health and substance abuse treatment beds available to inmates at the neighborhood’s yet-to-be-built prison facilities to make more room for shared housing at the population. The reduction in mental health beds, first reported by Gothamist, came as part of a larger effort to increase neighborhood-based facilities by about 1,000 beds.

Originally, facilities in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan were planned to be able to house a total population of 3,300 detainees.

In 2014, when Rikers’ population hovered around 10,000 detainees, those with a mental health diagnosis made up about 37 percent of the population, according to the IBO.

They now make up about 51 percent of the prison population, the IBO report said.

The population change was even more pronounced among those facing felony charges.

In 2014, about 17 percent of pretrial detainees at Rikers were charged with a felony. In 2023, 46 percent of the Rikers population had been charged with a felony.

And while the two groups have grown to represent a larger portion of Rikers’ population, they do so separately. According to the IBO, people living with mental illness are less likely to be charged with a serious crime than those without mental illness, “so the trends in these two groups are not driven by the same stints” in prison. complex.

That the two groups come to represent such a disproportionate number of the total population of the prison complex means that the average inmate’s length of stay has also increased.

“Although stays of less than a month still make up the majority of stays, people tend to stay longer on average,” the IBO said in its report.

The proportion of stays longer than a month has increased from 31 percent a decade ago to 42 percent in 2023, the report claims.

The average length of stay in 2014 was 55 days, according to the report. In 2023, the average length of stay has jumped to just over 100 days.

The report said an increase in the percentage of those facing felony charges and those with a mental health diagnosis in the prison population likely played a role in the increase in average length of stay. Those facing violent crimes tend to be held longer at Rikers than those facing a lesser charge, and those with mental health issues tend to be held longer than those without a diagnosis.

The average length of stay for an inmate charged with a felony in 2023 was 144 days, the report said — the average length of stay for the same population in 2014 was 125 days. Those facing non-violent crime charges spent an average of 88 days in jail, and those facing felony charges spent an average of about 40 days in the prison complex in 2023.

Similar increases were seen in those with mental health problems.

In 2014, detainees flagged for mental health issues were held for an average of 88 days, the report said. In 2023, they were held just under twice as long, averaging about 146 days behind bars.

Although the Adams administration plans to reduce the number of mental health beds at neighborhood-based jails — which are not expected to be built until 2029, two years after the statutory deadline to close Rikers Island — the administration previously announced this month that construction will begin on several outpost therapeutic housing units for detainees.

The units at NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull and North Central Bronx will “house detainees who have serious medical, mental health and substance use needs and would benefit from a more structured clinical environment,” according to City Hall. Both are expected to be completed by the summer of 2027.

Similarly, construction is currently underway on a mental health unit at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, which is expected to be completed by spring 2025.

In total, the three units will have about 360 beds.

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