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Rikers Island temporarily transferring nearly all women and transgender people

The transfers will begin next week. Twelve inmates at New York City jails have died this year.
Credit: AP
FILE - March 16, 2011 - A barbed wire fence outside inmate housing on New York's Rikers Island correctional facility in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File)

WASHINGTON — Starting next week, more than 200 inmates will be transferred out of Rikers Island in New York City to two separate New York State-run facilities, according to an announcement from New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. 

Beginning Oct.18, the facility will begin transferring "nearly all" of the women and transgender individuals currently being held at the jail complex to either Bedford Hills Correctional Facility or Taconic Correctional Facility.

So far this year, 12 inmates have died in New York City correctional facilities, including 11 at Rikers. According to the New York Times, the 12th, a man named Stephen Kandu, died at the Vernon C. Bain Center, a floating jail barge just north of Rikers.

"The situation on Rikers Island is grave and complex, and thus requires bold action from all levels of government to deliver change," Hochul said Wednesday in a press release. "I am especially heartened that the State is able to assist some of the most vulnerable populations on Rikers."

This move comes after local representatives urged Hochul to close the jail immediately. In a letter to the governor, Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jerry Nadler, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velázquez called conditions at the jail “deplorable and nothing short of a humanitarian crisis."

Conditions at the jail have been a concern for months, with reports of unguarded cellblocks, staffing shortages and more. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made those issues worse. In their letter to the governor, the representatives said that the jail has failed to provide inmates protection against COVID.

In response to criticism, the city says it's opened a new intake operation, installed new cell doors, brought in cleaning services and implemented more accountability measures to minimize AWOL guards.

According to the plan, transfers will begin starting the week of Oct. 18, and will happen twice a day. The city of New York will also provide transportation for inmates' family members to visit them at their temporary facilities. 

Wednesday's announcement noted that no inmates with pending immigration-related matters will be transferred. 

While long-term solutions have not been discussed publicly, the governor's office says it's working with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to figure out what that would look like.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.