The Bronx District Attorney’s Office is bringing charges against a jail guard accused of smuggling in a razor blade for a detainee incarcerated on Rikers Island.
Last week, Travis Simms, 33, was arrested after an assistant deputy warden reportedly noticed the correction officer making a hand-off to Jonathan Sanchez, a 31-year-old detainee held at the George R. Vierno Center at Rikers Island. After seeing the alleged exchange, the jail supervisor ordered a search of the detainee, which revealed a razor hidden inside a pen cap, according to the city’s Department of Investigation and Department of Correction.
“An observant and fast-acting Assistant Deputy Warden and her team helped stem the flow of contraband at a critical and challenging time in the City’s jails,” said Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett. “Their quick action, and DOC’s dedicated partnership with DOI, demonstrate the zero tolerance policy New York City has when it comes to contraband in the City’s jails.”
After his arrest, corrections authorities said they suspended Simms, who has worked in city jails since December 2016. At an arraignment on Thursday, a judge released the correction officer allowing him to stay at home as he awaits his trial.
If convicted for the felony charge of promoting prison contraband in the first degree, Simms could face up to seven years in prison. He has also been charged with two misdemeanors: official misconduct and promoting prison contraband in the second degree. His attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment left with his law firm.
The guard’s arrest comes as Rikers Island and jails across New York City have struggled with persistent violence, particularly in intake facilities where staff use of force incidents, stabbings and slashings have risen dramatically compared to the year prior.
Along with physical violence, detainees in city jails have had to contend with rising COVID-19 numbers, a breakdown in medical and food delivery services due to absentee staff and a spike in incidents of self-harm. At least twelve people incarcerated in New York City jails have died in 2021–five of them by suicide.
Amid the crisis, reform advocates have called on city prosecutors and judges to release more detainees as they await trial. The corrections officers union has pushed the city to hire more guards, claiming the current staffing cannot assert control inside their facilities.
According to the Department of Correction, about a quarter of its uniformed staff is calling out sick or simply not showing up to work right now—a slight improvement from even higher levels of absenteeism earlier this year. The staffing issues have prompted the jail’s remaining guards to abandon dozens of their posts, leaving incarcerated people without essential services.
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