A Harlem man who had been hospitalized since trying to hang himself last week in a holding pen in Manhattan Criminal Court was taken off life support and died on Monday, becoming the 14th person to die in the custody of the New York City Department of Correction this year.
The man, Anthony Scott, 58, died at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, the latest in a string of deaths that have made 2021 the deadliest year in the city’s jail system since 2016.
The toll has climbed as the city’s correction system has struggled with converging crises — the coronavirus pandemic and rampant staff absenteeism — and has been unable to provide basic services. Amid that backdrop, there has also been an uptick in instances of self-harm among incarcerated people.
Mr. Scott had autism and struggled with mental illness and substance abuse, his family’s lawyer, David. B. Rankin, said on Monday. “His family loved him a lot,” Mr. Rankin said.
Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at the Legal Aid Society, said: “Throughout his life, Mr. Scott was continually criminalized for his struggle with mental illness, and our criminal legal system has never had the comprehensive tools necessary to serve New Yorkers with acute needs like Mr. Scott. This bleak reality is exacerbated when our clients remain in the charge of the New York City Department of Correction or the New York City Police Department, agencies that have consistently failed in their legal and moral obligations to keep our clients safe.”
Mr. Scott was being held in the holding pen on Thursday after he was arraigned on an assault charge, a court spokesman said. According to a criminal complaint, Mr. Scott had punched a nurse in the face at NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia Irving Medical Center in Manhattan. He was ordered held on $15,000 cash bail or a $45,000 bond.
Guards and rescue workers found him hanging in the cell, cut him down and took him to Bellevue Hospital Center, where he spent days in critical condition, according to two people familiar with his case, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe details of a detainee’s health. A judge granted him compassionate release on Friday.
Incidents of self-harm in the city jail system are at their highest levels in five years, according to the Board of Correction, with 539 cases from April to June.