New York City's Jails See Two Deaths in Single Week

One at Rikers, one at a nearby jail barge, marking 12 deaths this year


In less than a week, two men have died in custody in New York City's jails.

On Sunday, Isaabdul Karim, 42, died in an infirmary while in detention on Rikers Island. Officials say they believe he died of "natural causes," but the medical examiner has yet to make an official determination. According to The Intercept, Karim became infected with COVID-19 while held in the jail's intake pens. It's not clear whether he was vaccinated, but he also had underlying medical conditions and was in a wheelchair. He reportedly appeared to be recovering from COVID but then suddenly collapsed. CPR was not able to revive him.

On Wednesday, Stephan Khadu, 24, died while being held at the Vernon C. Bain Center, a floating barge-turned-jail docked near Rikers. Khadu's death is still under investigation. A representative from the jail wardens' union has said that Khadu had a history of seizures at the jail. He told The New York Times that medical staff responded quickly to his latest seizure even though an elevator at the jail wasn't working.

Karim and Khadu mark the 11th and 12th deaths at Rikers this year. Reason's J.D. Tuccille noted on Monday—before Karim's death was widely reported—the many bad problems in Rikers' operations.

The two deaths also highlight other endemic problems with how New York City's entire criminal justice system operates. Khadu was arrested in 2019 for some very serious crimes: He was charged with conspiracy to commit murder in the second degree, assault, grand larceny, and other offenses. But though he was charged nearly two years ago, he had not had his trial at his time of death. Obviously, the pandemic shut down court systems for some time, but New York City's justice system already operated at a crawl; there's a good chance the trial wouldn't have started even without COVID-19 in the picture. So he was in jail on serious charges, was denied bail because of the seriousness of the charges, but also hadn't actually been convicted of the crime.

Karim arguably shouldn't have been at Rikers in the first place. He was arrested in August for technical violations of his probation. So he didn't break any new laws; he had missed meetings with his parole officer and "improperly changing his address," according to prison officials, by living in New Jersey. He had previously served two years and six months for selling cocaine to an undercover cop.

So Karim went to jail in the first place for a non-violent drug crime and his probation violations were for technical reasons. He had pre-existing health problems, and yet New York decided the right thing to do was to lock him up in a jail with a miserable reputation for danger and mismanagement.

Under a newly passed sentencing reform law in New York, the Less Is More Act, some of these "technical violations" will no longer lead to imprisonment, and there will be a cap of 30 days for violations that still qualify. Gov. Kathy Hochul announced last Friday that nearly 200 people who were there on technical violations would be released. But Karim had been in the jail for 29 days, so he was excluded from the list.

It's a miserable state of affairs in a jail that is dangerous and understaffed, yet also extremely expensive. The city is now suing the union that represents prison workers, accusing it of organizing a campaign that has led to thousands of employee absences each month—nearly a third of the work force.

Karim's partner, Felicia Huff Bullock, told The New York Times that she had talked to Karim on the phone and that he had told her he was being denied food and medication.

"They're not feeding us," he reportedly said. "I don't know what's going on. They are treating us like animals; worse than animals."

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  2. Jail workers love their job. They have total power. They can literally starve someone to death for fun. Never met happier people than correction workers.

    Human beings are disgusting creatures. Oppression and tyranny exist because little people, cops and foot-soldiers, are happy to do evil so long as they have power over others.

    Especially if they’re on the other TEAM.

    Eh, Nardz? Got a list of people you’re going to murder yet? People who you believe voted for Joe? So you can get onto Trump’s inner circle?

    1. Seriously. I dated a chick who was going to school for “Corrections” or whatever that means. She just wanted the power to be mean and have an entire system to back her up. A cheerful person, but evil at her core.

    2. I’m shocked, SHOCKED! that sarc brought up Trump in an article about a jail in NYC.

  3. If the report is accurate, it appears that they both died due to reasons outside of being in jail.

  4. The problem is this problem is seen as a binary problem – either we pass more restrictive laws, allow cops more latitude to go around busting heads, build danker dungeons in which to throw criminals for longer sentences, or we just let the criminals go free to commit whatever crimes they please. After years of trying the former, enough people are finally willing to try the second. The reality is that it costs a shitload of money to operate a properly-run criminal justice system and people simply aren’t willing to spend the money.

    This reminds me of Reagan getting blamed for closing all the mental hospitals and kicking all the crazy people out in the street. Yes, he did. Because the under-funded mental health system was operating real honest-to-God medieval torture dungeons (look up “The Snakepit” and see why that name stuck) and if the system wasn’t going to get funded properly, these people were literally better off freezing and starving to death out on the street than being stuck in a mental institution. How fucked up must the hospitals have been that living on the streets was preferable to “getting help”?

    This de-incarceration movement is of the same sort – if you’re not going to fund the criminal justice system properly, society is better off having rapists and thieves and murders roaming around freely on the streets than to have cops and prosecutors and jailers roaming around freely on the streets. For one thing, think of how much money we’d save if we weren’t paying for prisons and police and courts. Seriously – think about it. Think about how goddamn much money this shit costs and weigh the benefits of having them – are you retarded enough to think you’re getting your money’s worth out of government? In any fucking matter whatsoever? The military, the roads, the schools, the welfare programs, is there one single fucking thing the government does that’s worth the costs? Just get rid of it all, we’d all be better off.

    1. The mental hospitals were so fucked up, that they were the opposite of “getting help”.

    2. When I was young I worked at a mental health facility. Some of the older residents had lived in an asylum when they were younger. They spoke of it with utter horror. One of the stories I remember in particular was that it was common to be strapped in a straight jacket and thrown into a corner, being left there long after they’d defecated. Literally lying in their own filth for up to a day at a time.

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  8. Gosh I guess Chicago is just one big prison given how many folks are shot and killed there daily..

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