U.S. News

New York City sees rise in injury claims from jails: comptroller

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City paid more than $13 million in fiscal year 2015 to settle a rising tide of personal injury claims stemming from its jails, particularly the Rikers Island complex, according to a watchdog report released on Wednesday.

Scott Stringer, the city’s comptroller, said data collected by his office showed that more than 2,800 such claims were filed between July 2014 and June 2015, a 27 percent increase from the previous year and a 172 percent increase since 2009.

Those claims were filed either by inmates or employees at correctional facilities, though the exact breakdown was not immediately available.

“We have a humanitarian crisis on our hands at Rikers that is hurting both inmates and corrections officers, and we have an obligation as a city to confront suffering and violence in our jails,” Stringer said in a statement.

The notorious Rikers Island is one of the largest jail complexes in the United States, with around 10,000 inmates in 10 separate facilities.

The complex has drawn increased scrutiny in recent years after allegations of pervasive violence and poor supervision. Dozens of guards have faced state or federal charges for assault or smuggling contraband.

The problems drew the attention of the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, who joined a class action against the city filed by Rikers inmates claiming abuse. The city and the Justice Department settled the case by agreeing to several reforms, including the installation of a federal monitor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has also allocated millions of dollars to implement other changes, such as adding security cameras and hiring more staff members.

In response to Stringer’s report, Monica Klein, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said serious uses of force by officers had dropped 23 percent and serious assaults on staff members had fallen 11 percent in 2015 from the previous year.

“From expanding officer training to announcing a new use of force policy to safely curtailing solitary confinement, we are putting clear reforms in place to address violence and improve inmate outcomes on Rikers.”

Some officials, including Stringer, have called for the eventual closure of Rikers. De Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton have dismissed that idea as unfeasible.

Stringer also said preliminary data indicates that the number of claims has continued to rise in the current fiscal year.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Dan Grebler