Less than a week before Elijah Muhammad became the 10th inmate to die on Rikers Island this year, he was placed in an isolated de-escalation unit for more than 30 hours – more than five times longer than policy of the licensure department – according to a New York City Council member of corrections. The disturbing discovery is the latest evidence to suggest Muhammad was subjected to a pattern of neglect and cruelty at the ailing prison complex.
BOC member Robert Cohen visited the George R. Vierno Center prison on July 5 and met with Muhammad and two inmates from Unit 2B, where the de-escalation cells are located, he said during the monthly board meeting on Tuesday. According to Corrections Department policy, inmates who act out are supposed to be taken temporarily to the cells to cool off, for a maximum of six hours. Muhammad was placed there much longer, and it’s unclear why, Cohen said.
“When I went there were three men, one was coming in and two had been there for over 30 hours. “They weren’t coming out of their cells at all. They weren’t getting their medicine. And one of the men I spoke to that day was Elijah Muhammad, who died on Sunday.”
Cohen asked DOC Commissioner Louis Molina, “What have you done to make it clear to your staff that de-escalation units aren’t just places to dump people?”
Molina expressed concern about Cohen’s findings and said officers have already been disciplined for abusing de-escalation units.
“I will investigate the gentleman who you believe was there for over 30 hours. . . it shouldn’t have happened,” Molina said.
Muhammad, 31, was found dead at the George R. Vierno Center around 9:45 p.m. Sunday from a suspected drug overdose, according to The Daily News. He had been detained there since June for assault. He was believed to have been dead in his cell for hours before his body was discovered, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. Earlier in the day he appeared disoriented and unable to walk, the Times wrote, citing a source familiar with the incident. It is unclear how Muhammad was able to obtain drugs inside the prison, but the flow of contraband is a growing problem at Rikers, even though the number of outside visitors inside has decreased.
Since January 2021, there have been five confirmed and two suspected overdose deaths on Rikers Island, BOC Executive Director Amanda Masters said Tuesday. Eight other people died by suicide.
Department staff are supposed to be trained in how to administer Narcan, a life-saving overdose reversal drug. But that doesn’t happen consistently, Masters said. “Some of the officers we spoke with yesterday were unaware they had access to Narcan or were supposed to use it,” she said.
A Department of Corrections officer has been fired in connection with Muhammad’s death, according to multiple reports. Molina said in a statement that a “preliminary review of this incident requires that we take immediate action against the personnel involved,” NY1 reported, noting that the DOC would not provide any additional information about Muhammad’s death or the exact reason. of dismissal.
The DOC has repeatedly delayed its plan to limit the use of solitary confinement, most recently in June. New rules were due to come into force on July 1 which would have required inmates to spend at least 10 hours outside their cells a day. They were suspended when the federal comptroller who oversees the department expressed concerns about the lack of staff needed to monitor inmates with severe needs, The City reported.
Molina said at Tuesday’s meeting that the department was nonetheless able to make some changes to its solitary confinement policies. “We no longer use restraint desks in any of the restricted living units,” he said, referring to desks fitted with chains and locks.
Board members on Tuesday expressed concerns about the use of solitary confinement at the prison. According to board member Felipe Franco, young adults are housed “in awful spaces, 23 hours a day confined behind plexiglass with no human contact, no programming and indeed no clarity on how they can get out.” , did he declare. The observations were based on a visit by the BOC to Units 3B and 3C of the North Infirmary Command earlier this month. “I met a young man who completely (collapsed) and started talking about suicide,” Franco said.
The department’s brass said they were working to “dismantle” the NIC’s isolation unit.
“These are very complex issues that have existed for decades here,” Molina said. “We have been in the process over the past six months of rebuilding this whole department.”