The Department of Correction said in a statement that the inmate at the Vernon C Bain Center, a floating Bronx jail across the East River from the Rikers Island jail complex, appeared to be in medical distress and was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 10:50 am.
Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said he was “devastated to see that we have yet another death in custody, and determined to stop this heartbreaking trend”.
“We are doing all we can to remedy the unprecedented crisis we are experiencing in our jails. My thoughts and prayers are with the individual’s loved ones,” Schiraldi said.
The Department of Correction did not identify the inmate by name, pending notification of next of kin. The cause of death is under investigation by the city medical examiner’s office.
The Bain Center, a five-story jail stacked on a 625-foot (190.5-m) barge, opened in 1992 as temporary relief for crowded city jails. Since then, it’s been criticised for overcrowding.
The city’s jail system, troubled by years of neglect, has spiraled into turmoil during the coronavirus pandemic with a spike in inmate deaths, violence, self-harm and staff absences.
Most of the trouble has been concentrated on Rikers Island.
On Sunday, Rikers inmate Isaabdul Karim (42) died at a jail infirmary after reporting he was not feeling well, officials said. He was given CPR, but he was later pronounced dead.
At least five Rikers inmates have died this year by suicide, the most there since 2005.
The chaos has led to growing calls to overhaul or immediately close Rikers Island, which the city has said will be shuttered by 2027.
On Tuesday, Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jerry Nadler, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velazquez sent a letter to New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio demanding the release of inmates and closure of the complex.
They called conditions at the jail “deplorable and nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.”
Last week, de Blasio announced reform plans including requiring a doctor’s note if a jail guard is out more than a day and suspending guards 30 days without pay if they don’t show up to work. Hochul signed a bill largely eliminating jail for technical parole violations.
Meanwhile, the city and jail union continue to battle over staff absences. On Monday, the city sued the union, alleging it condoned or encouraged employee sick outs, constituting an illegal strike.
Union president Benny Bocio Jr. called the lawsuit “meritless” and “fact-less” and said it was de Blasio’s “latest desperate and pathetic attempt to shift blame from himself for the humanitarian crisis he created on Rikers Island and the mess he created throughout the city.”
The union is also balking at de Blasio’s plan to send private security guards to Rikers so that 150 correctional officers who currently guard the complex’s perimeter could be moved inside the jails.
The union says such a move would violate a union-backed state law that prohibits the city from replacing public jail employees with private guards. De Blasio said it would only be a temporary, emergency fix.
“This is an emergency dynamic,” de Blasio told reporters Wednesday. “Until this moment has passed, we’re going to use whatever tool it takes to keep people safe.“