NYC moves to suspend Rikers Island correction officers who don’t show up for work

City officials moved Wednesday to persuade Rikers Island officers to show up for work.

Department of Correction investigators delivered suspension notices to the homes of roughly 20 AWOL officers, jail sources told the Daily News.

“If you worked at Starbucks, and you didn’t show up, would you be able to keep your job?” asked a Department of Correction source.

The punishments came one day after Mayor de Blasio said officers would receive 30-day suspensions without pay for violating sick leave rules as part of an emergency plan to deal with a staffing and conditions crisis in the jails.

“Folks, not showing up for work is unacceptable,” de Blasio said Tuesday.

The de Blasio administration and the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association have been at loggerheads for months over staffing problems which have led to officers working triple shifts and a breakdown in basic services to those jailed at Rikers while awaiting trial or serving their sentences.

At a City Council hearing Wednesday, Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said the absent officers are “the direct driver of more dangerous conditions in Rikers, and that is completely unacceptable.”

“We will also be awarding bonuses to the courageous officers who have been showing up without fail and working extra shifts,” Schiraldi said. “They are the heroes who have been holding the line during these challenging times.”

Of the absent officers, Schiraldi said: “It’s too many. It shouldn’t be anyone.”

Schiraldi said earlier this month that 1,416 officers were out per day on average in August, compared to 689 on an average day in August 2020. An average 93 of those officers were were absent without leave on a typical August day, versus an average 29 per day in August 2020.

The commissioner has argued that if everyone showed up for work, current staffing levels would be adequate. In 2014, the city employed 9,000 officers at Rikers for 11,000 detainees. Currently, Schiraldi has said, there are 8,400 staff for 6,000 detainees.

But the Correction Officers Benevolent Association says there’s a shortage of officers, and has called repeatedly for a new hiring campaign.

The wave of suspensions on Wednesday brought a sharp rebuke from union president Benny Boscio, who says staffing levels have fallen in the years since 2014.

“The Mayor cannot discipline his way out of this staffing crisis that he caused by refusing to hire a single correction officer for nearly three years, even as the inmate population doubled,” Boscio said.

“More heavy-handed suspensions will only ensure officers continue to work triple and quadruple shifts with no meals and no rest.”

For months, the attendance problems have resulted in unstaffed and understaffed units in the jails that have led to safety fears among detainees and Rikers staff.

Prisoners wait for empty cells for days in fetid intake bullpens. In one Rikers jail, the Otis Bantum Correctional Center, some detainees were being housed in tiny shower stalls with plastic bags for feces and urine, according to state legislators who toured the facility Monday.

Ten people have died in the jails since December, and some inmates report that their units have gone unguarded for more than 24 hours at a stretch. Inmates also say they’ve sometimes taken on responsibility for helping each other get to court hearings and video conferences.

State Sen. Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn) said that when she toured the jails on Monday, medical clinic staff reported they were afraid to leave their office and were only seeing 10% of their caseload.

“These aren’t amateurs,” Salazar said. “Some used to feel completely safe there at all times. Those same medical staff are now terrified of leaving the clinic.”

In recent weeks, DOC investigators have been conducting increased home visits and suspending officers for abusing the sick leave policy.

In one previous case, staffers held a “summer jam” party on July 31, a DOC source said. Investigators found eight correction officers at the bash who violated sick leave rules by not being at home, a source said. They were suspended.

In another case, an officer out sick since May was busted for drunken driving when she was supposed to be home, the source said. She was not home again when investigators visited to suspend her. She then refused to cooperate and has been incommunicado.

And a three-year veteran who has been out sick for roughly half her career laughed when investigators sought her signature, the source said. She said she couldn’t recall her shield number and needed to find it.

De Blasio has announced an “emergency relief plan” for Rikers that includes using police officers to staff some court areas, hiring of cleaning contractors to improve conditions, bringing in more medical staffers and speeding up periods in intake.

Salazar said nothing will change until the jail population comes down. “[The mayor’s plan] is deeply inadequate,” she said.

“The most important thing he could do right now to improve the situation is to use the early release program. He used it at the beginning of the pandemic. It would reduce the jail population immediately. Its baffling to me that’s not included in this plan.”

Salazar and other legislators are also pushing for Gov. Hochul to sign the “Less is More” bill, which would remove a range of technical state parole violations, like missing curfew, that land people in Rikers.

Graham Rayman covers criminal justice and policing for the New York Daily News. He has won multiple journalism prizes over his 30-year career. He has previously worked at New York Newsday, Newsday, and the Village Voice. He authored a book on a police officer who became a whistleblower in Brooklyn called “The NYPD Tapes.”

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