New York City Department of Correction Neglected to Run Background Checks on Employees at Rikers Island

By Michael Klazema on 6/12/2015

According to an exclusive breaking news story from the New York Post, major oversights have been discovered regarding background checks for certain employees at Rikers Island. Rikers, which is New York City's primary jail complex, is run by the city's Correction Department. The department, in turn, is responsible for running background checks on different jail employees, but has neglected the responsibility for most if not all healthcare workershired since 2008.

For healthcare employees at Rikers Island, a third-party medical contractor provides the city's Correction Department with fingerprint cards. The department is then supposed to take the fingerprints and use them to run criminal background checks on new hires. This system has been in place since 2008, when the medical contract company in question, Corizon Health, began working with New York's Department of Correction to hire healthcare staff atRikers.However, instead of being processed, these fingerprint cards from Corizon Health reportedly just piled up on a desk in the Correction Department's human resources department. In fact, according to the New York Post, some fingerprint cards could have sat on a desk collecting dust for all seven years that have passed since the department first started working with Corizon. Whether or not the city actually processed background checks for any Rikers healthcare staff hired in the past seven years is unclear.

The lapses in background checks have led to a number of close calls at Rikers. Recently, one of Corizon's hires was caught bringing a razor into the jail. Subsequent checks showed that the worker had a kidnapping charge on his or her record. On another occasion, a Corizon employee was caught trying to smuggle contraband into the jail. It's impossible to know how many similar instances that Rikers Island security guards haven't caught. Now, it seems that the situation has devolved into a game of finger-pointing between Corizon Health and the Department of Correction. On one hand, Corizon Health took the blame for the poor vetting in a report compiled by the City of New York Department of Investigation. The Correction Department is also looking to cut ties with Corizon when the health company's current contract expires in December, according to the New York Post.

On the other hand, Corizon has issued a statement claiming that the Department of Correction "is the entity solely responsible for running criminal background checks on Corizon Health staff at Rikers Island." Since the Department of Investigation report broke, the Correction Department has reportedly picked up the slack and started running criminal checks on new health hires, suggesting that there is something in Corizon's contract that puts background check responsibility on the shoulders of the city.

The question is, why did it take so long for someone to notice that hundreds of people were being employed without background checks, at a prison, no less? It's hard for some people not to place the blame on the Correction Department, for letting a clearly disorganized system jeopardize the safety of both inmates and staff at Rikers Island. But the system itself was clearly flawed to begin with: why would anyone other than the healthcare hiring authority for the jail be responsible for screening healthcare hires?

The good news is that the issue has been caught now and is supposedly resolved. But will the Department of Correction run background checks on all of those healthcare workers they missed over the years? Or will they only focus on checks for new hires? Clearly, there are still a lot of unanswered questions here that need to be addressed.


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