NYC mayor faces deadline to submit plan for improving Rikers Island conditions
Advocates say a receivership is the only solution and claim Mayor Adams and Correction Commissioner Louis Molina have failed to improve the problems
By Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — Backers of a federal takeover of the troubled New York City jail system launched a campaign Monday to make their case a day before the Adams administration’s deadline to produce its plan to improve conditions on Rikers Island.
The advocates say a receivership is the only solution to fixing the jails and claim that so far Mayor Adams and city Correction Commissioner Louis Molina have failed to improve the situation.
The group debuted a website — rikersisland.org — on Monday with position papers and videos illustrating their argument.
Adams said later Monday he does not support receivership.
“If anyone believes that just because this receivership comes in that all of a sudden something that was dysfunctional for generations is going to change — I doubt that,” Adams said.
“All I can do is within my span of control. We’re going to fix Rikers, I need an opportunity to do so. And if they’re not willing to give me the opportunity to do something, there’s nothing I can do about it.”
On Tuesday, Adams’ administration is expected to file its plan. A hearing is slated for May 24 before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who is presiding over class action litigation that led to a federal monitor of the city jail system being appointed in 2015.
The push for a receivership is being sponsored by Campaign Zero, a national criminal justice reform advocacy group.
“Every single mechanism that we were promised that would save people’s lives has failed,” said DeRay Mckesson, the founder of Campaign Zero who served on Adams’ transition team.
“The monitor has not made it safer, the oversight agencies are toothless, and no mayor is going to be able to do this. The judge has immense power and has not used it. Receivership is the only logical conclusion.”
Speaking at an unrelated press conference in Harlem, Adams appeared to take a shot at supporters of receivership, including former Mayor Bill de Blasio’s last Correction Department commissioner, Vincent Schiraldi, and de Blasio’s former top criminal justice adviser, Elizabeth Glazer.
“I do find it strange that the people who are calling for a receivership, some of them, they had Rikers — they didn’t fix it then,” he said. ”So now they are vociferous about receivership, why didn’t they fix it when they had it? That’s a good question.”
The feds threatened to back receivership in a letter to the court on April 19. And on May 9, the city Board of Correction, an oversight body, issued a scathing report on medical and staff breakdowns that contributed to three deaths on Rikers Island in 2022. A fourth man, Dashawn Carter, died by suicide on May 7.
The deaths came on top of 16 more in the jails in 2021.
Adams last week formed a blue ribbon panel of agency heads to try to turn things around.
Campaign Zero asserts that in nearly seven years, the city has failed to achieve full compliance with even one of the monitor’s recommendations, covering 15 categories with 12 separate indicators each, including uses of force, staff accountability and training.
Receivership, the campaign says, would address the sick leave dysfunction that has crippled operations and made the jails less safe for officers and detainees, speed up the disciplinary system and allow things like hiring outside correction professionals for uniformed positions.
“Without the ability to completely reform uniform leadership at Rikers, rather than continuing the toxic cycle of promoting from within, there cannot be meaningful change,” said Sarena Townsend, an adviser to the group who was fired by Molina Jan. 3 because she refused his demand to “get rid” of 2,000 disciplinary cases in a few months.
The campaign argues that the Adams administration has already made a series of bad decisions, including playing to the correction unions in weakening sick leave rules and failing to share information with the monitor and City Council.
But the union for city correction officers opposes a receivership.
“We don’t need to outsource the management of our jails at New York City taxpayers’ expense,” said Benny Boscio, the president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association. “Instead, the city needs to invest and support our demoralized workforce by hiring the necessary number of officers to restore safe staffing levels and to maintain optimal security for everyone in our jails.”
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