NEW YORK — In the week since New York City jail officials took the rare step of locking down four of Rikers Island's largest facilities for 34 hours to stop gang violence, four inmates have been slashed and a fifth stabbed, according to jail statistics obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
Four slashings and a stabbing occurred in jails that the elite Department of Correction security officers locked down on March 3 and 4 to search 2,000 inmates and their cells, according to official jail reports. A fifth slashing occurred Wednesday in a facility that houses older inmates as well as 16- and 17-year-olds.
The rash of violence comes a day after jails Commissioner Joseph Ponte told reporters the lockdown was a short-term success in slowing the increased problem of gang, as well as intra-gang, fighting in the nation's second-largest jail system. It also comes a day before Mayor Bill de Blasio is scheduled to visit the 10-facility jail complex to unveil a comprehensive 14-point plan to curb violence.
While inmate violence is down from a high of 1,552 stabbings and slashings in 1990, it has recently begun to climb, with 93 such incidents last year — up from 73 the year before, jail statistics show.
Guards' use of force has also steadily increased, and the rate was up by 11 percent in January and February compared with the same months of last year, according to the data.
The 34-hour operation was initiated after gang intelligence officers noticed an uptick of violence between two specific sets of the Bloods gang, including four slashings over a recent three-day period, corrections officials have said.
There was other disorder in the jails during that span.
An inmate assaulted a female guard, attempting to sexually assault her before he was stopped by guards and inmates, according to court papers. Two correction officers also got in a fight while on duty, and an inmate in a solitary confinement dorm somehow obtained a guard's keys, opening up cell doors before he was stopped.
A jails spokesman didn't immediately return a request for comment by the AP, but Ponte told reporters Tuesday after a public meeting with the jails oversight board that the lockdown was a temporary success, but in the long term, "we need to get better at managing the jails."
"I think we use those surgically to try and identify an issue," Ponte said of the lockdowns. "The issue for me always is, 'Is it gang driven? Is it going to happen here and here and here?' So you try and really, as best you can, you try and get that information so you can make better decisions."
Jail officials regularly lock a facility down following assaults but must seek a variance from the oversight agency to lock inmates in their cells for more than 24 hours. A health official told the oversight board Tuesday that 22 to 38 percent fewer inmates were seen at sick call during the lockdown and 24 to 46 percent fewer attended discharge planning services.
Eleven homemade weapons were discovered during the lockdown, including an 8½-inch sharpened piece of metal, a 2-inch broken plastic cup handle and a 7-inch piece of plexiglas, jail officials said. But none of the recovered weapons included scalpels — a medical instrument a top jail official testified at a public hearing in December was driving the violence.
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