The city Department of Correction appears to have tampered with records to hide that it was violating local law and a federal court order by keeping detainees in intake pens longer than a day, advocates said Monday.
Documents obtained by the Legal Aid Society through a public-records request seem to show the DOC changing the arrival times for at least 17 detainees in June to make it appear as if they hadn’t been in an intake cell there for more than 24 hours.
In one of the records, a Rikers Island detainee was listed as having arrived at 7:30 p.m. June 14, but at 7:36 p.m. the next day, when he should have been transferred to a housing facility, his arrival time was changed to three hours earlier, apparently so the time wouldn’t seem to be in violation.
“These changes often occurred as a newly admitted person in custody approached their 24 hour clock expiration, or sometimes following the expiration,” the Board of Correction told the intake facility’s warden June 16 after spotting the alleged tampered records, according to a copy of an email released by Legal Aid.
“Some people in custody had their custody start time changed multiple times over the course of several hours,” the email states.
When new admissions arrive on Rikers Island, city law requires them to be placed in a housing facility within 24 hours because intake units and their staff are not properly equipped to care for them for extended periods of time.
The pens quickly become overcrowded, there is little access to bathroom facilities, and some detainees, especially those with medical concerns or mental-health issues, need to be placed in specialized units to keep themselves and others safe while in custody.
The DOC allegedly cooked the books at a time when the Eric M. Taylor Center, Rikers Island’s intake facility, was severely understaffed and overrun with detainees who were crammed into the pens and had little access to basic services.
Nine months earlier, a previous intake facility on Rikers Island was closed for the exact same violations, prompting a federal judge to issue an order mandating the DOC ensure detainees aren’t in intake longer than 24 hours – on top of the city regulation already in place.
“The Court ordered this time limit in response to multiple reports of horrific conditions at [the intake facility], where incarcerated persons were found languishing in cramped holding cells for days, with no beds or showers or access to appropriate food and medication,” the Legal Aid Society said.
The Post previously obtained never-before-seen photographs of the jail’s last intake unit before it was closed, which showed men crammed body-to-body for days on end sleeping on fetid floors covered with urine, feces and other human secretions.
“We are deeply concerned by this revelation, which appears to show DOC employees tampering with data that is used to monitor compliance with a court order,” Kayla Simpson, a staff attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement, referring to the allegedly doctored records.
“This seriously diminishes the credibility of the City’s public assertions that they have solved their long-standing problem of holding people for days in these uninhabitable areas, and the public deserves answers.”
When asked for comment, the DOC didn’t deny that the records were tampered with and said the incident is under investigation.
“We hold transparency and integrity in high regard, and we will continue to hold staff accountable so that are our jails are run efficiently and that people in our custody are safe,” a rep said.
The revelation comes as City Hall works to stave off a federal receivership of Rikers Island after decades of mismanagement and chaos at the notorious jail complex.
The DOC submitted a plan to a federal judge earlier this year to show how it will be rectifying the agency’s many issues, but it could still face receivership if the court finds it is not doing an adequate job of fixing the problems.
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