An inmate at New York City’s troubled Rikers Island jail complex hopped behind the wheel of a prison bus Thursday night and crashed it into a wall while guards weren’t looking, officials said.
Two inmates were evaluated for minor injuries. One guard was suspended for 30 days without pay. Officials said further discipline could be warranted pending the outcome of an investigation.
Jason Kersten, a spokesperson for the city’s Department of Correction, said the incident happened around 10 p.m. He said the agency is working with prosecutors to have the inmate re-arrested.
The Daily News reported that the inmate got behind the wheel of the bus while guards in charge of watching him and other detainees left to get paperwork.
“We take this incident very seriously,” Kersten said.
The crash is just the latest trouble for the city’s jail system, which has spiraled into turmoil during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ten inmates have died this year, at least five in suspected suicides, amid a spike in violence and self-harm that advocates and a federal monitor said has been fueled by chronic staff shortages.
At one point during the summer, more than one-third of the city’s jail guards were on sick leave or medically unfit to work with inmates, and some guards have been missing shifts without any explanation.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday signed a bill reforming the state parole system. Lamenting the “volatile” situation at Rikers, she said too often “parole becomes a ticket back into jail” because of technical violations like drinking or missing appointments.
The reform bill, known as Less is More, doesn’t take effect until March 2022, but Hochul said she was directing the state’s parole board to release 191 people immediately. In addition, she said about 200 sentenced inmates would be moved from the city’s Rikers jail to state facilities in coming days.