Notorious Rikers Island jails infested with roaches and other vermin, report finds

New York, New York - Inspectors found hundreds of signs of insects, including ants, flies, fruit flies, roaches, gnats, and drain flies, along with mice and mouse droppings in New York's Rikers Island pre-trial detention center, says the latest monitor’s report on conditions in the aging city jails from May through August.

New York's Rikers Island has long had a reputation for unsanitary conditions and violence, conclusions that have been substantiated in a new report.
New York's Rikers Island has long had a reputation for unsanitary conditions and violence, conclusions that have been substantiated in a new report.  © Ed JONES / AFP

Inspectors spotted the vermin in the jails 347 times in the period, compared to just 176 times from January through April. They were found all over, including cells, janitor’s closets, and common areas, the report said.

The creepy conclusions out of Rikers Island are contained in a report filed Friday by the Office of Compliance Consultants appointed to monitor jail conditions as part of court orders in the Benjamin v. City litigation, a case first filed in 1975.

"The continued observations of vermin and the repeated sightings in specific locations indicate an ongoing issue of noncompliance with the Benjamin sanitation mandates," the consultants wrote.

Kansas City Super Bowl parade shooting sees murder charges
Murder Kansas City Super Bowl parade shooting sees murder charges

The 53-year-old Robert N. Davoren Center, which mostly houses young men, had the most sightings – bugs were spotted 135 times there.

"It appears RNDC has a vermin problem," the report said.

The second-most sightings – 91 instances – fell to the Anna M. Kross Center, which is now closed.

In GRVC, inspectors found many of the same vermin as RNDC but also larvae "indicating arthropods in various stages of development."

Lawyers with the Legal Aid Society noted that similar conditions in a residential building would trigger penalties from the city.

"The recent report outlining DOC’s gross negligence in maintaining sanitary conditions in local jails is deeply disturbing and wholly unacceptable," said Lauren Stephens-Davidowitz, of the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society.

"The alarming rise in observations of vermin has not only exacerbated inhumane living conditions, but poses significant health risks to the people housed in these facilities."

Report raises thousands of safety and cleanliness violations at Rikers Island

A protester holds up a sign calling for the closure of Rikers Island outside New York City Hall.
A protester holds up a sign calling for the closure of Rikers Island outside New York City Hall.  © MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

In response to the consultants, correction officials argued that the presence of bugs is not technically part of the case.

"Vermin is no longer a part of the court order," DOC argued in June, the report said. "DOC is willing to reconsider whether it would be more efficient to include these findings."

The DOC response continued, "(T)he Department (does not) agree that vermin observations themselves are a sign of non-compliance. Many of the facilities are older structures, food is consumed there, and detainees are permitted to keep food in their cells and housing area."

Alabama Supreme Court rules that frozen embryos are "children"
Justice Alabama Supreme Court rules that frozen embryos are "children"

Overall, the report issued Friday noted thousands of violations for substandard cleanliness and sanitation, bad smells, clogged vents and drains, pooling water, and bad lighting, along with lapses in fire safety – a very similar series of findings to the report issued in July.

Hundreds of windows in the jails weren’t working, even though some of them had been broken and the subject of repair orders for two years or more. Lights in part of the jails are also often broken with long delays in repair time.

Of 225 housing areas examined, just 70, or 31%, were found compliant with legal requirements. Fifty-four units failed every inspection. And often, work orders had been submitted repeatedly without action, the report said.

"Living areas were documented to be generally unsanitary, with dirty janitor’s closets, vermin, insufficient cleaning products, missing cleaning equipment, poorly maintained ventilation," the report said.

Veronica Vela, a supervising attorney with Legal Aid, noted during the first quarter of 2023, the intake areas, for example, were in better shape, but the newest report shows worse conditions.

"It’s sort of a consistent theme. Any sort of progress they do make seems to be a result of happenstance," she said. "All of these things are inter-connected. You have mouse droppings, pooling water, an infestation and then you hear about janitor’s closets with no cleaning supplies."

Cover photo: MICHAEL M. SANTIAGO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

More on Law enforcement: