Official: More NYC inmates splashing health staff

NEW YORK (AP) — Inmates in New York City’s jail system are increasingly splashing health workers with water, urine and other bodily fluids, with such incidents nearly tripling during the last year.

Dr. Homer Venters, an assistant city health commissioner, told the city corrections board Tuesday that the number of splashing incidents against doctors, psychiatrists and other health workers has jumped from nine in 2012 to 25 last year. There were 22 total assaults on health staff in 2012 and 32 total assaults last year, he said.

Venters said inmates are using the splashings to express anger over what they most often say are a lack of services, health care or their desire to get out of solitary confinement.

Thirty-three of the 37 patients accused of splashing have a mental health diagnosis and 92 percent of splashing incidents occur in solitary confinement, Venters said.

Department of Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro said during the meeting that splashing has unfortunately become a daily occurrence for correction officers who manage the roughly 12,000 daily inmates who are incarcerated on Rikers Island and other city jails.

She said installing splash-guards on cells has made it more difficult for inmates to throw fluids at workers. She said the department is committed to creating an environment that won’t provoke future incidents.

A spokesman for the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, the union representing the roughly 9,000 correction officers, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

Venters’ presentation came after the union representing health staff, Doctors Council SEIU, wrote a letter urging more to be done to protect health workers at the Department of Correction and the Board of Correction, which has a watchdog role over the agency.

The Department of Correction houses hundreds of inmates in solitary confinement as a punishment for breaking jailhouse rules and as a safety measure for both vulnerable and volatile inmates.

At the end of December, department officials said they’d stopped a controversial program of jailing seriously mentally ill inmates who break the rules in a special 23-hour lock up unit. That move came at the urging of advocates and the Board of Correction, which has initiated the lengthy process of amending the rules on when solitary can be used for both adult and adolescent inmates.

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