Harlem senator calls on state to probe continuing Rikers violence, look into speeding up closure after latest attack

Originally published in Daily News on November 28, 2017.

ALBANY - In the wake of the latest violent incident at Rikers Island, a Harlem state senator is asking the state to look into the ongoing bloodshed — and the potential for closing the troubled jail within three years.

Sen. Brian Benjamin, a Democrat, made the calls in a letter he sent this week to Thomas Beilein, the chairman of the state Commission of Correction.

The letter comes days after a Rikers Island captain was beaten by three inmates in an unprovoked Thanksgiving Day attack that was caught on video.

"The eyes of the world are focused upon the atrocities taking place at the Rikers Island Jail Complex (Rikers); a place accurately described as a symbol of the worst aspects of New York's criminal justice system," Benjamin wrote.

"Week after week, and despite a very public finding by the United States Attorney's Office in 2014 that there exists a 'deep-seated culture of violence' at Rikers both between inmates, and between staff and inmates, nothing seems to change."

During his 2017 run for Senate, Benjamin criticized Mayor de Blasio's call for Rikers to be closed in 10 years. Since taking office, he introduced legislation to shut down the facility within three years. Gov. Cuomo has said he would sign the bill if passed.

"The all-too-consistent news reports of violence and inhumane conditions at Rikers make clear that simply discussing this issue will not suffice," Benjamin wrote in his letter to Beilein.

He asked for an accounting of the Commission of Correction's experience with Rikers and asked the agency to investigate the "troubling recent developments" and for its position on expediting the closure of the jail complex.

"Your agency's insight into this matter will help bring justice and closure to all New Yorkers impacted," Benjamin wrote.

While the commission typically does not comment on proposed legislation, agency spokeswoman Janine Kava said that "the Commission staff will review and certainly respond to Senator Benjamin's letter."

"In addition, the Commission is evaluating all aspects of Rikers' operations and will continue to monitor the facility while it remains open and use its regulatory powers to ensure compliance with state regulations and laws," Kava said.