Judge rules to allow NYC to continue attempts to reform Rikers Island

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, November 18, 2022
Judge allows NYC to continue attempts to reform Rikers Island
The future of the Rikers Island prison complex takes center stage in a Lower Manhattan courtroom Thursday. N.J. Burkett has the story.

LOWER MANHATTAN (WABC) -- A federal judge will allow the city to continue in its attempts to reform Rikers Island, concluding that putting the troubled jail in receivership would be premature.

Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina admitted to the judge during a hearing in federal court Thursday that there are problems, but assured the judge that the administration is committed to solving problems that a receiver cannot.

He asked federal judge Laura Taylor Swain to give him more time.

She denied the Legal Aid Society request for receivership, agreeing that allowing the city to continue to make changes is the best course, while continuing to hold the city accountable.

One possible outcome of the hearing was that the judge could have ordered a federal receiver to assume control.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams was opposed to such a takeover and said the city was capable of fixing the longstanding problems at Rikers.

"I'm a bit baffled about people who think that the federal receivership of oversight is the end-all," the mayor said. "Are the federal prisons... are those the poster-children of good prison? Go to 30th Street and Third Avenue. I don't know why people think that, 'OK, let's turn it over to the federal receivership,' and all of a sudden all the problems are going to go away. That's not true."

But community activists, including those formerly incarcerated at Rikers and those with loved ones in still the prison, wanted to strip New York City of control of the facility.

"The Adams administration is clearly showing they can't handle Rikers Island," said Kenyatta Muzzanni from Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice. "We need to shut Rikers down."

They were demanding the federal takeover and made their message loud and clear at a rally in Foley Square before Thursday afternoon's hearing.

"The majority of people held on Rikers have not been sentenced or convicted, and some are innocent," said Katal member Kaeshalee Vega. "Many have been given outrageous bail amounts and are there because their families are financially incapable of paying for their freedom. The system is deeply flawed."

An independent monitor found that "The conditions in the jail remain dangerously unsafe and the monitoring team remains gravely concerned about the alarming number of in-custody deaths." They're also concerned about violence in the jail-against officers and inmates. And the way the jail is being run.

The Legal Aid Society is suing the city, demanding a federal takeover of Rikers Island. Something Mayor Adams opposes.

"Let's run our city," Adams said. "We don't need the federal government to run our city, we can fix these problems."

So far this year, 18 inmates have died city jails this year, most of them at Rikers.

Corrections officers at the facility have also become victims of violence.

Less than three weeks ago, an officer was hospitalized after being stabbed over a dozen times.

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