Federal monitor calls for outside intervention to stabilize Rikers Island

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, September 24, 2021
Protesters rally outside City Hall calling for Rikers shutdown
Protesters rallied outside New York City Hall on Wednesday, calling for Mayor Bill de Blasio to shutdown the troubled jail complex on Rikers Island.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Rikers Island is in a crisis of leadership, and outside intervention is needed to stabilize it, the federal monitor wrote to a judge ahead of an emergency hearing.

The city has made no significant process since last month to fix the crisis, federal monitor Steve Martin wrote in a letter filed Thursday night.

"The City's and Department's plans have a significant void. They do not address the ubiquitous mismanagement and prevalent security failures within the jails," Martin wrote.

"Stated bluntly, the City's and Department's plans are not sufficient to address the imminent risk of harm to people in custody and Staff flowing from the poor operation of the jails, including Staff failing to secure doors, abandoning their posts, or continuously engaging in a whole host of dangerous security."

"We are gravely concerned that the Department has made no appreciable progress to ameliorate the dangerous conditions in the jails," the letter read. "This troubling state of affairs certainly calls into question whether Department leadership possess the level of competency to safely manage the jails."

Martin does not believe the Correction Department is capable of providing safe conditions, and instead is asking the federal court to consider appointing an "external Security Operations Manager with significant expertise in correctional security."

"The significant deterioration in safety, the ubiquitous poor management, the systemic dysfunction, and the corresponding harm to incarcerated individuals and Staff has led the Monitoring Team to conclude that the Department does not have the requisite internal capacity to manage the security functions necessary," the monitor wrote.

Referring to the 12 deaths in correction department custody, Martin said Rikers staff "continues to fail to timely intervene during incidents in which incarcerated individuals threaten or engage in acts of self-harm."

In one instance, he told the judge in an emergency hearing in federal court this morning, guards were within "six feet of a hanging inmate, in their direct line of sight, did not detect that."

During a court hearing Wednesday morning, the correction officers union told a judge they would never instruct guards not to report to work or call in sick or claim a false personal emergency or walk off post.

Upon hearing that, the city dropped its lawsuit against the union, COBA, calling the public statement "a step forward." But the city added it will "continue monitoring" and will "take further legal action as necessary."

Just last week, Governor Kathy Hochul and every single prosecutor in the city vowed a new day was at hand at Rikers, as they released 191 inmates and transferred dozens more.

RELATED | Rikers Island officers 'scared to go back to work' amid spike in violence

Inside Rikers Island, there's an increase in violence, and it's not just attacks amongst inmates. Assaults against corrections officers are up by 23%.


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