Death count of those lost in DOC custody remains topic of contention as another inmate dies
The term "count", used in a leaked email acquired by the New York Times from the commissioner of the Department of Correction, is putting a recent death in DOC custody under the spotlight.
The story was first reported by the New York Times, which claimed it received an email in which DOC commissioner Louis Molina told a colleague to make sure an inmate was “off the Department’s count”.
News 12 reached out to the DOC for clarity. It said "count" is a technical term. An inmate is removed off the count to spend time with their family if they urgently need care and are no longer under the supervision of correction officers.
This comes as news emerges of a 16th death of a person either in DOC custody or just released from custody.
When asked about the incident, the DOC says the inmate, Robert Pondexter, had a medical emergency at the George R. Vierno Center on Rikers Island on Sept. 18.
The department says that Pondexter was granted "compassionate release" from DOC custody on Sept. 22 after he was admitted to Bellevue Hospital. They say he died one day later.
Doctors are required to sign off on a compassionate release request, and the courts ultimately make the final decision – something that has received criticism from some, despite Mayor Eric Adams’ support of the DOC commissioner.
Despite many advocates and loved ones of inmates calling out the Department of Correction for their conditions, Adams came to the defense of the DOC and Commissioner Louis Molina.
"I commend him, how he has gone to the hospital, how he's spoken to family members who their loved ones are at the end of their lives,” said Adams. “This commissioner has been as compassionate as anyone can be. He doesn't have to do that, but he knows we're talking about human beings."
The HALT-Solitary campaign released a statement on the ongoing incidents with the DOC:
"This Department and this Commissioner cannot be trusted. It is beyond egregious that rather than doing everything in their power to release people and make sure people in their custody are healthy, well, and alive, the Department is more concerned with covering up what happens in their custody to avoid scrutiny."
When asked about the incident, the Department of Corrections released a statement saying the following:
“Let’s be clear - the Department strongly supports compassionate release only because it allows for family members to spend time with the individual when they need the most care and support, and never to influence departmental statistics.”
The DOC also says that suggesting that this was a way for them to keep the number of deaths down is “incorrect and offensive."