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Rikers violence leads to spike in lawsuits, report says

"Persistent violence" in the system and at Rikers

"Persistent violence" in the system and at Rikers Island, has increased the amount the city pays out in personal injury suits, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Wednesday, March 2, 2016. This is the Rikers Island jail complex on June 20, 2014. Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

The number of personal injury claims against the city Department of Correction jumped 27 percent between fiscal years 2014 and 2015, a consequence of “persistent violence” in the system and at Rikers Island, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said Wednesday.

The amount paid out in settlements and judgments on such claims rose 66 percent to $13.1 million in the same period, he said.

“Despite everyone focused on the issue, we’re clearly not at the point where we see any measurable decrease in violence,” Stringer said at a lower Manhattan news conference. “I worry that, based on looking at the claims, we’re actually seeing a system that is getting more and more out of control.”

The total number of claims in fiscal year 2015 — which ended June 30 — was 2,846 and included violence between detainees and between inmates and officers as well as slip-and-fall cases, the city’s fiscal watchdog said. The figure compares with 2,245 claims the previous year and 1,047 claims in fiscal year 2009.

The increases are more troubling because they come amid a drop in the city’s detainee population of 10 percent between fiscal years 2014 and 2015 and a rise in annual cost per inmate — $112,665 each, or a 17 percent increase in the same period, Stringer said.

Labeling Rikers “the Wild West of corrections,” Stringer reiterated his call to close the scandal-plagued jail complex pending cost analyses. The island has a daily detainee population of about 7,700, according to the Department of Correction.

De Blasio spokeswoman Monica Klein cited a 23 percent reduction is serious uses of force and 11 percent drop in serious assaults on staff as evidence of “clear reforms in place to address violence and improve inmate outcomes on Rikers.”

Settlements and judgments often reflect incidents from the previous administration and before the tenure of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, city officials said.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is convening a commission to explore a path toward closing Rikers, an idea that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo supports. De Blasio has called the concept “noble,” but argued it would cost billions of dollars to achieve.

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