Federal Monitor takes action against Riker's new housing plan over fire safety concerns

Dan Krauth Image
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
Federal Monitor takes action against Riker's new housing plan
Dan Krauth has more on the investigation.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- A court-appointed federal monitor which oversees Rikers Island filed a scathing special report, accusing leadership at the jail facility of putting the safety of both inmates and officers at risk.

The nearly 60-page report filed in federal court claims the New York City Department of Corrections opened an Arson Reduction Housing Unit at Rikers last month as a place to put inmates who have a history of setting fires.

Court documents state the city did it without notifying the independent monitor as required, and the new housing unit did not have a working fire suppression system.

The documents state, "The failure to consult in this case was not just a bureaucratic failure. This housing unit posed a serious risk of harm to those incarcerated and to staff."

The chair of the City Council's Criminal Justice Committee agrees.

"It makes you think, is it a disdain for accountability or is it just deep, deep culture of dysfunction and mismanagement," Carlina Rivera said. "It's kind of hard to wrap your brain around something that is so dangerous for incarcerated and staff. There was a week in September where there were 15 fires on Rikers Island, that was in the federal monitors report, and they also had a fire in April that actually injured 20 people."

However, in a statement, a city spokesperson said it does have a system in place. The statement reads: "The unit has a working fire suppression system that meets New York City fire and building code. In this case, fire suppression refers to sprinklers, which are not installed in each individual cell and are not required by law."

The new report comes as a court battle continues about whether control of Rikers should be handed over to a federal receiver.

The city's law department sent a statement to Eyewitness News saying: "This administration has made progress in many areas to address the deeply-rooted problems at Rikers that have existed for generations. We are committed to building upon that work and we do not believe a receivership is the solution to fixing the city's jail system."


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