N.Y. Today: No action as jail deaths increased

What you need to know for Tuesday.

It's Tuesday. We'll look at a little-known city agency responsible for monitoring conditions at the city's jails. It took no action as deaths increased earlier in the year. We'll also look at the resurgence of wildlife in New York City.

Uli Seit for The New York Times

Do your job "before someone else dies," an advocate pleaded at a meeting of the city Board of Correction, which has the power to monitor the Rikers Island jail complex.

My colleagues Dana Rubinstein and Jonah Bromwich write that the board's inaction did not go unnoticed as the death count in city jails rose to 14 this year. The board has issued no notices of violation since the pandemic began, not even after board members documented "horrible" conditions while investigating a death at Rikers in April. Many of the board's minimum standards — including the rules governing personal hygiene and how long detainees were in intake — appeared to have been violated.

Then, as conditions worsened in the summer, the board canceled its July meeting and, for lack of a quorum, could not reschedule it for August. When the board finally met in September, advocates' frustration was evident. That was when Victoria Phillips, who works with the Urban Justice Center, pleaded for the board to do its work before there were any more deaths.


The board's chairwoman, Jennifer Jones Austin, stayed for only an hour, missing most of the five-hour session. She said last week that she had a conflict because the nonprofit organization she runs also had a meeting.

When the board has made critical findings, it often has not shared them. A report on the April investigation was released only through a freedom of information request from the online news organization The City. Another report, on the first three deaths of Rikers detainees from Covid-19, did not become public until a public defender organization sought it, also through the state freedom of information law.

Even then, the board redacted the report's recommendations. According to someone who has read the unredacted version, they included releasing more people from jail; keeping the dorms less crowded; and notifying detainees of positive Covid-19 test results within 24 hours.

A spokesman for the mayor's office, Mitch Schwartz, said that the Board of Correction has yet to finish the report on the first Covid deaths from 2020 and added that he was sure the board would be transparent with its ultimate findings. Austin, the board's chairwoman, suggested in an interview that the board had not released the report publicly because it was not comprehensive enough. She said the board did not issue a notice of violation, because such a notice "does nothing."


In September, as the press began to focus on the number of deaths in city jails, the board released a statement acknowledging the five suicides at Rikers since last November, compared with none in 2018, 2019 and the first 10 months of 2020.

"The Board of Correction calls on the City of New York to move with urgency to create a safer environment for persons in custody and staff," the statement said.

It was, by some accounts, too little, too late.

"Yes, they did put out a statement," said Jennifer Parish, the director of criminal justice advocacy at the Urban Justice Center. "But there's so much more that could have been happening along the way."



Expect another bright day in the low 60s, with clouds moving in tonight and temps dropping to the low 50s.


In effect until Thursday (Veterans Day).

Day 1 of the vaccine rollout in schools

Paul LaCorte, the parent of two children, ages 5 and 7, who attend P.S. 40 in Manhattan, arrived early, hoping to get his children vaccinated at a clinic the city was hosting there.

He stood in line for more than four hours — more time than it had taken him to run the New York City Marathon on Sunday.

P.S. 40, in the Gramercy neighborhood, was one of a dozen New York City schools swamped with demand as the city began a weeklong effort to bring a half-day vaccine clinic to each of more than 1,000 schools that serve elementary students.

City officials acknowledged that they were caught off guard by the demand at some schools but said that things went smoothly at most of the 200 clinics operating on Monday.

"We laid in supply and staffing for the amount of demand we expected," Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "If we're seeing more demand, well, that's a good thing, but we got to catch up with it quickly."

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Wildlife ❤ NY. Yes, wildlife.

Adrienne Grunwald for The New York Times

A couple of centuries ago, wildlife luxuriated in the forests and fields of Manhattan, forests and fields that disappeared as the city pushed north. The wildlife largely disappeared, too.

Now naturalists say that wildlife is again luxuriating in New York, and not just in Manhattan. There are beavers on Staten Island, a coyote in Central Park, mink and foxes in the Bronx and exotic insects not seen in Brooklyn in decades.

Even baby damselflies and the world's most endangered sea turtles have taken up residence in Queens.

And there are bald eagles all over the city. Last winter, said Adrian Benepe, a former parks commissioner who is now the president of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, "they were in places you haven't seen them in generations, and they were hunting in Prospect Park."

Why? What drew them back?

It is partly that New York City has abundant food sources and relatively few predators. It is also partly that the city is more environmentally friendly than it was 40 years ago, said Kathryn Heintz, the executive director of the NYC Audubon Society. She credits efforts to clean up and expand parks, rivers, forests and wetlands. This has included planting more trees, wildflowers and grasses that are native to the area, banning pesticides in parks and spending billions to convert former landfills and industrial wastelands into nature sanctuaries.

All that has made New York "the greenest big city on earth," she said — a city that is on its way to being "environmentally embracing."

"This is a story of multiple decades and a process that takes persistence and patience," she said. "It's amazing what has happened in 40 years. Imagine what it's going to look like in another 40 years."

What we're reading


White roses

Dear Diary:

When I was 17, I visited my sister in Brooklyn. After that, I couldn't wait to grow up and move to New York City.

While I was visiting, my sister and I went out to dinner in Carroll Gardens. As we stood up to leave, the busboy, out of breath, handed me a bouquet of white roses he had bought on his break and asked me to go out with him.

My sister told him I was too young and was only visiting anyway.

When I eventually returned to the city as an adult, I walked past the space where the restaurant had been and let a wave of nostalgia wash over me.

Not far away, I saw a young man choosing flowers outside a small shop.

"She'll like anything," I said as I passed him.

He grabbed the cheapest bunch and confessed to being very nervous.

I slipped him a $10 bill from my purse and told him to get the white roses. They always make a girl feel special.

Bailey Singletary

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

Emma Grillo, Sharon Otterman, Jeffrey Furticella, Rick Martinez and Olivia Parker contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at nytoday@nytimes.com.

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