The death count continues to rise inside the city’s jail complex on Rikers Island.
Isaabdul Karim, 42, died while in custody at the North Infirmary Command Sunday evening, becoming the 11th fatality so far this year on Rikers Island. The cause of death is under investigation with confirmation pending from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
The Department of Correction said Karim was not feeling well when a medical emergency was activated. He was taken to the clinic where CPR was rendered. He was pronounced dead at 7:25 p.m.
“Providing for the safety of incarcerated people is our core mission, and I am heartbroken that we have yet another death of a human being entrusted to our care,” DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi said. “The causes of this death so far appear to be natural, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have serious issues in our jails.”
Karim entered DOC custody on Aug. 18 and he was being held on a state warrant for parole violation. Karim was a client of The Legal Aid Society which said he was held solely on the basis of a non-criminal, technical violation of parole — marijuana use and failing to make an office report.
“We are heartbroken and outraged to learn Isaabdul Karim, a father of two young children, passed away. Mr. Karim suffered from a host of medical issues for which he required a wheelchair,” The Legal Aid Attorney-in-Charge Tina Luongo said. “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.”
Following a visit to Rikers Island on Sept. 13, a delegation of 14 elected officials reported that the DOC has failed to follow COVID-19 protocols, including the failure to medically isolate COVID-positive people from others held in DOC custody.
“The conditions on Rikers Island are heartbreaking, deplorable, and unacceptable for both the people who are incarcerated and those expected to care for them. In the hours I spent there, I saw about a dozen men in one cell, many who haven’t received their medication in days and weeks,” state Senator Jessica Ramos said.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was among the delegation.
“As I saw last week and as we have argued since the start of the pandemic, a lack of adequate health protocols have compounded the threat to the safety of everyone on Rikers,” Wiliams said. “The steps that have been taken in recent days in effort to decarcerate and start to stabilize the situation are welcome, but does not go far enough, fast enough to alleviate the health and safety emergency for all inside.”
Governor Kathy Hochul signed the Less is More Act into law last Friday that will limit the number of people held for technical parole violation but it won’t be fully enacted until March. In the short-term, she reached an agreement with the DOC to release nearly 200 incarcerated individuals and another 200 people who have been sentenced to at least 90 days will be transferred from Rikers Island to state facilities.
“That’s allowing us to immediately move a number of individuals out of Rikers, that’s helping us make the situation safer and better for everyone, for officers and inmates alike,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his Monday briefing. “The way to get the situation improved is for everyone to show up for work, support each other, help make it a safe environment for everyone. That’s how we move forward, as we reduce the population there the right way. The safe way.”
The mayor added that Karim was not on the list from the state for release or transfer to other facilities.