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Federal monitors question Rikers Island violence data

“Practices for reporting stabbings/slashings are so unregulated that the monitor no longer has confidence in the accuracy of the department’s data in this area,” the monitoring team said


Rikers Island

Barry Williams/TNS

By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — The federal monitoring team tracking violence at Rikers Island and other city lockups said Wednesday it has little to no confidence in the accuracy of violence data produced by the Correction Department or much of anything else the department says.

The latest status report by the monitoring team overseeing the city jails as part of a consent decree with the Justice Department said security in the jails is poor, and major incidents continue to go unreported.

“Practices for reporting stabbings/slashings are so unregulated that the monitor no longer has confidence in the accuracy of the department’s data in this area,” the monitoring team said.

The report cited six blade attacks between January and July initially not classified as stabbings or slashings.

Moreover, the report said, the agency continues to mislead the public about the situation in the jails with “persistent interference, obstruction, and lack of transparency” to the monitoring team’s work.

Tensions between the monitoring team and DOC officials are so high that on Oct. 23 , a correction official threated to sue the monitoring team “if you refuse to extend the professional courtesy we have earned and deserve,” the report said.

The report comes as a judge weighs the possibility of federal receivership of the city’s jails. Lawyers representing detainees in the case and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are expected to file 100-page motions backing receivership later this month.

The reported noted there have been three city correction commissioners in 2 1/2 years — and that turnover may have added to the destabilization of the Correction Department system.

“After eight years and four (soon to be five) commissioners, the city and the department have failed to gain traction in the effort to build the necessary foundation for reform,” the report said.

The report also refers to a mysterious January 2022 letter sent by former correction commissioner Louis Molina to the city Department of Investigation which makes a series of unspecified allegations of misconduct by DOC staff.

The monitoring team had to file an emergency motion with Judge Laura Taylor Swain to get the letter and did not divulge any of the contents. But they questioned the accuracy of Molina’s allegations about “‘abuses’ that the commissioner described as ‘systemic’, and actions that appeared to violate court orders.”

“Many of the allegations underpinning the concerns amount to hearsay,” the report says. “The veracity and reliability of the claims in the letter is unknown.”

Neither DOC nor DOI would comment on the letter.

In 2015, when the city signed the consent decree that created the monitor, it was to address violence and staff use of force. But the month of October saw 655 uses of force, the highest in 2023, and 134 slashings, putting the system on pace for 400 slashings this year.

Between April 6 and Sept. 30, roughly 560 incidents of detainee self-injury were reported. Thirty-five officers were suspended for breakdowns that contributed to 14 deaths between May 5, 2022, and Oct 6, 2023.

Fires are often a signal of unrest in the jails — more than 400 have been reported in 2023, the report said.

On Oct 31, violence erupted in the Otis Bantum Correctional Center with three slashings in three housing units, plus fights, drug use and use of weapons, the report said.

Investigators blamed mixing of rival gangs for the violence, a bad result for the Adams administration’s aim to end the segregation of gangs in different units.

“Many staff at all facilities appear unable to properly manage blended housing units and to control the potential for violence,” the report said.

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