9,000 Rikers Island officers sue NYC over coronavirus

Rikers Island is one of the world’s largest jails. (AP pic)

NEW YORK: A union representing about 9,000 corrections officers at New York City’s Rikers Island jail sued the city on Thursday, demanding better protections from coronavirus after dozens of infections at the complex.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association said the city must provide N95 face masks for its members, sanitisers for their personal use, regular testing for temperature and other Covid-19 symptoms, and the regular sanitisation of work areas.

“The city has failed to provide even the most basic protection from a pernicious disease which is taking the lives of thousands of New Yorkers and infecting tens of thousands,” the union said in papers filed in the state supreme court in Queens County, a New York City borough.

“With no real or adequate policy or plan in place to address the Covid-19 virus on Rikers Island,” the union added, “that place of employment is unreasonably dangerous”.

Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s law department, said New York City and Mayor Bill De Blasio have already been reducing the inmate population to promote social distancing, and increasing cleaning and other sanitary measures.

The city is working to ensure that its jails are safe, “both for those who serve the city in a very difficult job and the detainees in their custody”, Paolucci said.

“We take seriously the issues raised by the complaint and will not have further comment until we have reviewed it carefully.”

Rikers Island is one of the world’s largest jails, and has become infamous for violence and poor living conditions. The city hopes to close it by 2026.

The Legal Aid Society said on Thursday that New York City jails, primarily Rikers, had 231 coronavirus cases out of a population of 4,529.

It said the 5.1% infection rate was nine times higher than in all of New York City, 11 times higher than in Italy’s Lombardy region, and 44 times higher than in China’s Hubei province, all major areas for the coronavirus outbreak.