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Another inmate dies at NYC’s troubled Rikers Island jail

September 21, 2021 Karen Matthews, Associated Press
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An inmate died at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, bringing the troubled facility’s death toll to 11 this year, authorities said.

Isaabdul Karim, 42, died at a jail infirmary just before 7:30 p.m. Sunday, the Department of Correction said in a news release. The department initially gave his name as Karim Isaabdul, but a spokesperson said late Monday that Isaabdul Karim was the correct name.

Karim was taken to the infirmary after he reported that he was not feeling well, Department of Correction officials said. He was given CPR, but he was later pronounced dead.

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The city medical examiner’s office will determine the inmate’s cause of death. Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said the death “appears to be natural.”

Karim’s death came days after both Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced plans to improve conditions at Rikers Island, where longstanding problems have worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

De Blasio’s planned reforms include requiring absent jail guards to get a doctor’s note if they’re out for more than a day. Hochul signed a bill on Friday that largely eliminates the practice of incarcerating people for technical parole violations.

At least 11 Rikers inmates have died this year, several of them by suicide.

Shiraldi said that although Sunday’s death appears to be natural, “there is nothing natural about what is happening in our jail system right now.”

He said he was “heartbroken that we have seen yet another death of a human being entrusted to our care.”

Karim had been in custody since Aug. 18 and was being held on a state warrant for parole violation, the Department of Correction said.

Department records show that he was arrested on a drug charge, a violation of his parole after he served time on an earlier drug conviction.

De Blasio said Karim was not on a list to be transferred out of Rikers under the new state law. “But we are investigating everything related to that tragedy,” the mayor said. “It’s horrible. We want to know what happened here and why.”

The Legal Aid Society said in a news release that Karim was being held “solely on the basis of non-criminal, technical violations of parole — marijuana use and failing to make an office report.”

The society said Karim had medical issues and used a wheelchair.

“Adding to this, Mr. Karim contracted COVID-19 while mired in intake for ten days, and he was denied access to his medications and critical medical care,” said Tina Luongo, head of the criminal defense practice at Legal Aid. “He should have been in the community with his family, friends and network, not in a jail plagued by an ongoing humanitarian crisis.”

City officials, who have blamed the crisis on absenteeism at the jail complex, filed a lawsuit in Manhattan state Supreme Court on Monday charging that the Correction Officers Benevolent Association and its leadership condoned a campaign of absenteeism among correction officers.

Union president Benny Boscio Jr. called the lawsuit “meritless.”

Speaking at his daily briefing on the pandemic, de Blasio said dozens of correction officers have been suspended for being absent without a valid excuse and more face possible suspension if they do not report for scheduled shifts.

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