Hundreds of jail guards and their supporters launched a mass protest near Rikers Island on Monday blasting what they called the worst working conditions in the history of the notoriously dangerous lock-up.
“They are at the breaking point,” Correction Captain Association President Pat Ferraiuolo told The Post of his union members.
“It’s worse than at the breaking point. They are the worst they have ever been in the history of Rikers Island,” he said of conditions and morale. “It’s a very dangerous environment.”
Correction Officer Chance McFarland, an 18-year veteran guard, attended the rally at the foot of the Queens bridge leading to the jail and said, “It’s never been like this.
“We need help.”f
Ferraiuolo called city Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi a puppet of Mayor Bill de Blasio — and said Hizzoner was “an a–hole” for not doing more to alleviate the strain on the officers.
Officials at City Hall did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a statement Monday, Schiraldi said the department is working on the issues — which even he said are many.
“We agree with many of the concerns raised here,” the commissioner said. “We are deeply concerned about the safety of our staff, medical staff, and incarcerated people in our facilities and are working hard to improve conditions.”
About 1,600 of the jail’s 8,800 uniformed officers were out on sick leave at the end of July — and another 2,200 didn’t show up for work at some point last month without calling in, the DOC said.
Schiraldi said the department has been taking “extensive measures to encourage staff to return to work” and to relieve those “who have been heroically working extra shifts.”
But union officials said no one wants to work at Rikers because guards have to contend daily with violent assaults, including sexual attacks on female COs, and exhausting extra shifts thanks to the severe staff shortages.
Benny Boscio, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said the department needs 2,000 more officers to ensure city jails are safe and secure.
The latest sticking point is a recently instituted measure that requires correction officers who call in sick to verify their illness with a doctor within 24 hours.
“Now we have a rising inmate population and the most violent that we have seen in years,” Boscio said. “And they want to know why we are out sick? Because we are getting assaulted every day, and they are assaulting us with impunity.”
GOP mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa, who attended the rally, called conditions at Rikers “an outrage.
“You don’t have that in a third-world country,” he said of the conditions.
A correction officer who asked not to be identified said the situation “is the worst it’s ever been.
“I’ve seen it when we were respected. We are not respected,” he said.
Earlier this month, a Rikers inmate attacked an officer and stole his keys and pepper spray, using one of the keys to free a fellow gangbanger.
The inmate, Luis Rivera, maced two other officers before he was taken into custody.
Last month, a correction captain working the nightshift was smothered with feces by another inmate.
And in May, another inmate set a fire inside the jailhouse, injuring 12.
Conditions at the jail have gotten so out-of-hand that scores of correction officers have been jumping ship and joining the ranks of New York’s Finest instead, The Post found in a special report last month.
The new NYPD recruit class had 555 new cops — 42 of them ex-correction officers.
Steven Rentis, who has been on the job at Rikers for 14 years, said the coronavirus pandemic only made things worse behind bars.
“We didn’t have any breaks,” Rentis said. “We had no PPEs. We were the ones that were dying. We were dropping like flies.”
Nine Big Apple correction officers have died from the coronavirus, and another 1,400 have been infected, the union said Monday.
According to city records, only 37.2 percent of city correction employees had received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine as of last week.
Among inmates, 41.5 percent have received at least one shot, while 37.5 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to the city Health and Hospitals Corporation.