Feds threaten to install new leadership at NYC jails to fix Rikers Island
“The jails are in a state of crisis, inmates and staff are being seriously injured, and action is desperately needed now,” the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office said
By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office threatened Tuesday to seek new leadership at the city jail system unless Mayor Adams and Correction Commissioner Louis Molina present a clear plan to fix ongoing staffing problems, improve security and other issues at Rikers Island.
The letter, filed in a class action lawsuit that resulted in the appointment of a federal monitor overseeing Rikers, detailed the feds’ frustration with the Correction Department. Prosecutors Jeffrey Powell and Lara Eshkenazi wrote that the agency has stonewalled their demands for clear answers on how to address well-documented problems.
“The jails are in a state of crisis, inmates and staff are being seriously injured, and action is desperately needed now,” read the letter filed in Manhattan Federal Court.
“Absent a commitment to expeditiously make the dramatic systemic reforms identified by the Monitor and to bring in corrections experts from outside the Department to revamp the agency’s operations and staffing practices, we will be left with no other option but to seek more aggressive relief, which could involve seeking the appointment of a receiver with independent authority to implement sweeping reforms.”
A court-appointed receiver would amount to a historic change for the city jail system. A judge would have to conclude that the Correction Department and city government are not capable of fixing the jails.
The letter comes ahead of key April 26 court hearing in the class action case. The prosecutors demanded that Molina and a rep from Adams’ office attend the hearing.
The monitor, Steve Martin, has been increasingly critical of the city’s failure to pursue reforms. A March 16 report found that more than 30% of uniformed staff were still out sick or unavailable to work with detainees, with some portion believed to be gaming the system.
The prosecutors shared the monitor’s mounting aggravation.
The prosecutors cited the monitor’s conclusion that the level of staffing dysfunction is “unmatched” by any other jail agency. DOC can’t even say where staff are supposed to be at any given time. Officers can “bid” on assignments, resulting in the most experienced officers being assigned cushy posts outside the jails.
The monitor told the city to come up with a way to get DOC staff to come back to work, but the city hasn’t provided a plan, the prosecutors write. In six years, they write, the city has failed to put in place the changes required by the landmark consent decree that resulted in the monitor’s appointment.
“We remain alarmed by the extraordinary level of violence and disorder at the jails and the ongoing imminent risk of harm that inmates and correction officers face every day,” the prosecutors write, citing, “basic security lapses, inexplicably high staff absenteeism levels,” poor management of frontline officers and lack of accountability in “excessive and unnecessary” uses of force against inmates.
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