EAST ELMHURST, NY – Rikers Island, the city’s primary correctional facility, has experienced another detainee death. This latest incident marked the second in-custody fatality in the first 19 days of 2024. The increasing death count, now standing at 28 since January 2022, has ignited debate about both the long-term closure of Rikers Island and a federal takeover while it remains operational.
The inmate at the center of this recent fatality was a 30-year-old man named Manuel Luna—discovered unconscious and unresponsive in his cell at the George R. Vierno Center. This Center houses detained and sentenced adult males. The incident was reported to have occurred on January 19th, 2024, at approximately 8:47 PM. Upon discovery, medical staff provided emergency medical care, with additional medical professionals joining the effort but, regrettably, Luna was pronounced dead.
The Corrections Department, tasked with overseeing Rikers Island, responded to the incident in a statement.
“On behalf of the New York City Department of Correction, we extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the deceased,” said Correction Commissioner Lynelle Maginley-Liddle. “We are conducting a full investigation into this tragic event.”
The Department pledged comprehensive cooperation with all outside investigative entities.
The grave occurrence follows the death of another detainee, identified as 43-year-old Chima Williams, who died earlier in January during a pickup basketball game at Rikers Island’s Eric M. Taylor Center.
The recent deaths have stirred up calls for the Mayor and the Department of Correction to intervene. The federal monitor overseeing the jails criticized DOC for its lack of transparency and reluctance to cooperate. Mounting pressures have the city confronted with the possibility of a federal takeover of Rikers – a measure aimed at ensuring a conducive environment for detainees and workers.
This controversy has been intensified by the fact that city law mandates Rikers Island to be replaced by four new “borough-based jails” by 2027. Although Mayor Eric Adams has agreed to Rikers’ closure, he expressed skepticism concerning the projected timeline. Factors like the expanding jail population and a likelihood of delayed completion of the new jails beyond the deadline compounds the scenario.
Darren Mack, co-director of the Freedom Agenda, argues for immediate closure, regarding Luna’s death as additional motivation to take action.
“It’s a new year, but the same story. Rikers is a death camp,” Mack declared. “It continues to kill our neighbors and leave more families devastated. Instead of continuing to send people there, the mayor needs to make the investments that will keep people safe: housing, mental health treatment, and other services to support people in our communities.”
As Rikers navigates these challenging times, and criticism heightens, one thing remains crystal clear: decisive actions must be taken to address these alarming in-custody deaths. What form these actions will take – a change in governance, new facilities, or even more transformative moves – remains to be seen. Until then, each tragic loss underscores the urgent need for improved conditions and genuine protection for those within the city’s primary correctional facility.