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Detainees on Rikers Island demand improved laundry services amidst unsanitary conditions

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Rikers Island, a facility notorious for its violence and controversy, faces renewed scrutiny as concerns about its basic services, particularly laundry, are brought to light by attorneys and the city’s jails oversight board.

Brooklyn Defender Services attorney Michael Klinger highlighted the dire conditions, stating, “They don’t have soap, washing machines, or even plastic basins most of the time.” Many detainees resort to wearing dirty clothes into the shower and using their shower soap, if available, for laundry.

Detainees at the sprawling jail complex are entitled to clean sheets, clothes, socks, and fresh blankets, with a mandate for clean clothes at least twice a week and weekly sheet cleaning. However, the reality for some detainees falls short of these standards. Board of Correction member Dr. Rachael Bedard revealed, “Some people said they have gone over 30 days without linen exchange,” and some lacked mattresses for an extended period, according to other board staff.

These concerns took center stage at a recent Board of Correction hearing in Lower Manhattan, marking the first appearance for the department’s new commissioner, Lynelle Maginley-Liddie. Acknowledging the challenges, Maginley-Liddie stated, “There are things that we clearly need to work on on our end,” expressing commitment to collaborate with the board to meet minimum standards for laundry services in custody.

Maginley-Liddie inherits a department with a history of tension with the oversight board, and she is focused on resetting the relationship. Emphasizing cooperation for necessary reforms, she remarked, “We have to work together in order to achieve these reforms, and that is the commitment here.” Regarding laundry services, the department plans to conduct an audit of its performance, pledging to improve and collaborate with the board in the coming weeks.

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