Rikers Island witnesses 16th death of incarcerated individual this year

Another individual jailed on Rikers Island this year has died from an apparent medical emergency.

William Brown, 55, became the 14th incarcerated person to perish in the Department of Corrections facility in 2021, law enforcement sources said.

Brown’s death came less than a week after the most recent fatality, of Malcolm Boatwright, 28, who had been in custody at the Anna M. Kross Center but suffered a medical issue on Dec. 9. Boatwright, who first entered the facility on Nov. 12, succumbed at Bellevue Hospital.

Brown was also at the Anna M. Kross Center on Dec. 14 when he was found in medical distress, according to the Corrections Department. Staff declared a medical emergency and administered CPR.

But their efforts fell short, and Brown — who was brought to Rikers back on Nov. 14 — was pronounced dead at about 11:46 p.m. Tuesday night.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is investigating the cause of both deaths.

“I am devastated to know that another person entrusted in our care has passed away,” said Corrections Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi. “We will work diligently to determine the circumstances surrounding his death. My deepest sympathy goes out to Mr. Brown’s loved ones.”

In all, 16 individuals — 14 on Rikers and two other inmates who had “compassionately released,” the Corrections Department noted — have died in the facility’s custody in 2021.

The rash of in-custody deaths on Rikers Island cast further spotlight on the facility’s condition. Throughout this year, criminal justice activists have urged the city to do something to address derelict conditions, health and mental illness concerns, and rampant violence on Rikers that poses a danger to both those jailed there and the corrections officers patrolling the site.

“Judges, prosecutors, the Mayor, the Governor, and other elected officials have shown a complete indifference to the lives of incarcerated people, as they send hundreds more New Yorkers each week into the deadly conditions on Rikers and The Boat,” said Darren Mack, a survivor of Rikers Island and co-founder of the Freedom Agenda, which seeks to have all Rikers Island jails closed. “William Brown, Malcolm Boatwright, and fourteen others this year were meted out death sentences by the NYC jail and court system. A system this morally bankrupt, dysfunctional, and neglectful lacks the legitimacy to detain anyone. The only practical and humane solution is immediate decarceration.”

In September, the federal monitor appointed to oversee conditions on Rikers Island, Steve Martin, said in a letter that the city and the Corrections Department plans to address terrible conditions on Rikers Island had “a significant void.”

“They do not address the ubiquitous mismanagement and prevalent security failures within the jails,” Martin wrote. “Stated bluntly, the City’s and Department’s plans are not sufficient to address the imminent risk of harm to people in custody and Staff flowing from the poor operation of the jails.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t exactly agree with that assessment. After touring the facility in September, his first visit there in more than four years, de Blasio touted progress made in expediting inmate processing times, alleviating overcrowding, and boosting Corrections Department presence to ensure greater safety.

“We’re going to fix the immediate problem, but the bigger problem remains,” de Blasio previously said. “We need to close Rikers Island once and for all. We need to get to humane, modern jails so we can rehabilitate people. That plan must keep going and it must keep going on schedule. That’s the big picture we’ve got to stay focused on.”

The city currently is scheduled to shut Rikers Island down on or about 2026 while shifting toward a community-based jail system.