Judge takes 1st step to put New York City's Rikers Island under federal control

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Thursday, August 10, 2023
Judge takes 1st step to put Rikers Island under federal control
A judge took the first step in putting Rikers Island under federal control, citing the safety of the inmates and the people who work in city jails. Reporter Tom Negovan has more.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A judge took the first step toward putting Rikers Island under federal control on Thursday afternoon, citing the safety of the inmates and the people who work in city jails.

Mayor Eric Adams opposes the takeover and says progress has been made since he took office last year.

Violence and harm are "occurring daily" at New York City's embattled Rikers Island jail complex and efforts to fix it have been "haphazard, tepid and insubstantial," a federal monitor said during the hearing Thursday.

Testimony by the monitor, Steve J. Martin, came as a federal judge considers whether the city should maintain stewardship of the jail or whether it should be put into federal receivership.

"The current state of affairs is tragic and unacceptable," Judge Laura Taylor Swain said.

Seven people have died at Rikers this year and assistant monitor Anna Friedberg said there were eight stabbings last month alone.

"We have real concerns whether there are viable plans to address these problems," Friedberg said.

When the monitoring team went to Rikers on Wednesday, Friedberg said the team saw open drug use that officers did nothing about, including in the highest security unit where detainees are allowed no visitors.

"We simply cannot proceed with the way were are going now," Friedberg said. "The dynamic has to be different."

On August 3 there were 25 uses of force, six of which were deemed avoidable.

"Almost one out of four in that given day did not need to occur," Friedberg said.

Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said the city is committed to "relentless reform" and he defended the city's actions to fix systemic problems at Rikers, noting that "indicators of safety have improved" and uses of force, staff absenteeism and stabbings are down.

"These metrics are just a few of the reasons why I'm proud of the leadership team I have in place," Molina said. "We are in fact below trends seen elsewhere."

Molina said the department's work is not complete and he asked the judge for more time.

"No receiver will come into the Department of Correction and induce greater reform," Molina said. "Things are significantly better than the apex of this crisis and that is undeniable."

Judge Swain imposed an order requiring the Department of Correction to turn over certain records, allow the federal monitor access to certain meetings and regularly brief the monitor on use of force, security and violence indicators.

She gave each side until November to submit written arguments about receivership.

RELATED | Inside Rikers: An Eyewitness News investigation


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