Even though she acknowledged that “people are dying” in New York City’s troubled jails, a federal judge on Tuesday refrained from taking control of Rikers Island away from local officials. Instead, she ordered the city to revise its plan for addressing violence and disorder at the compound.
After hearing arguments from the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and others who had raised the possibility of appointing an independent official to run New York City’s jails, the judge, Laura T. Swain, made the decision during a hearing on Tuesday. This is something that has never happened before in the history of the city’s jail system.
More time before the federal take over
Judge Swain had given the city’s Department of Correction three weeks to come up with a plan to remedy the crisis in the jail complex, beginning the previous month. Due to city staffing practices, gang members were in charge of some jail areas, and detainees were allowed to languish without food or medical care. Judge Swain had given the city’s Department of Correction three weeks to come up with a plan to remedy the crisis in the jail complex.
But during the time that the jail officials were formulating their plan, two detainees passed away, the city was held in contempt by the state court for its failure to provide timely medical care, and questions began to arise regarding whether or not the jail system properly documented a serious head injury that a detainee suffered in April.
At the hearing that took place on Tuesday, a federal prosecutor by the name of Jeffrey K. Powell went over the department’s failures before coming to the conclusion that “extraordinary remedies” would most likely be required to change the conditions at Rikers, where more than a thousand correction officers are not showing up for work on a daily basis.
He stated that these remedies could include executive orders from Mayor Eric Adams or Governor Kathy Hochul, judicial orders allowing officials to waive certain restrictions, or the possibility of a full or partial federal takeover, which is known as receivership. All of these options were discussed by him.
However, the commissioner of the Corrections Department, Louis A. Molina, stated that those alternatives were not necessary and that their plan would be adequate. And this is because he has done such a bang up job up to this point.
“Change must come from within,” Mr. Molina said, adding that he did not need any additional authority from the court to implement the plan that his office had worked out with a federal monitor overseeing reforms in the jails. The plan was developed by Mr. Molina’s office in conjunction with the federal monitor who was monitoring the reforms in the jails.
According to Hernandez D. Stroud, counsel of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, federal prosecutors and judges frequently threaten city agencies with receivership. In some cases, this causes agencies to change their practices as a result of the threat.
It’s not a federal case, or is it?
According to Mr. Stroud, this course of action is used extremely infrequently, and he added that “taking a jail or prison away is a very big deal,” which happens only when a judge determines that all other potential courses of action have been explored.
Some advocates have argued that a federal court takeover is necessary to cut through barriers to reform in New York City’s jails. These barriers include a union contract that provides correction officers with unlimited sick leave and a state law that bars the department from hiring outside correction unions for certain positions. In addition, some advocates have argued that a federal court takeover is necessary to cut through barriers to reform in New York City’s jails.
Martin Horn, who served as the city prisons commissioner under the administration of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, had submitted a petition to state legislators in the early 2000s requesting that they modify that statute. However, he stated in an interview that Norman Seabrook, a formerly influential leader of the correction officers’ organization, was responsible for preventing lawmakers from amending it.
Mr. Horn stated that it is impossible to successfully manage a correctional facility while at odds with the employees working there. “The municipality needs to find a way to involve the unions in the problem-solving process.” It’s always nice to be able to pass the buck.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesman for a union that represents correction officers did not immediately provide a response. Judge Swain has given the city the instruction to submit its updated plan by the 10th of June.