Not so fast with the talk of a federal takeover of Rikers Island and New York City’s other jails, the city correction commissioner said Tuesday as he promised to fix the lockups’ problems despite years of city government neglect.
Bidding to stave off talk of a federal receiver, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina told a Manhattan federal judge that he agreed with proposals from the federal monitor overseeing a class-action lawsuit over violence at Rikers, and asked for more time to fix the problems.
“The monitor and I are aligned,” Molina said. “I assure this court, you will see change. We have not passed the point of no return.”
If your could have, you would have. Has he been waiting all this time to start? If so why? Louis Molino’s statement is asinine at best.
Molina blamed some of the longstanding problems in the jails with the plan that arose during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration to close Rikers, claiming that the proposal to shift detainees to lockups spread across the city led to disinvestment in the jails system that caused conditions to deteriorate.
Of course he did not actually back this up with any figures or facts. This is the equivalent of a child who has not played with a particular toy in years seeing someone else reaching for it and claiming that they want to use the toy.
US Attorney on Rikers Island
Manhattan US Attorney Damian Williams broached the possibility of pushing for receivership last week in a letter to Judge Laura Taylor Swain citing a series of failed efforts to address the Correction Department’s staffing dysfunction, jail supervision, violence and conditions since the federal monitor went to work six years ago.
Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Powell noted Tuesday the fundamental problems of unstaffed jail posts, the availability of weapons in the jails and the “alarming” staff absentee rate remain critical problems that require more than just planning.
“We continue to be greatly concerned about the unfit conditions in the facilities and the violence,” Powell said. “We can’t just hit the reset button each time a new administration comes in and wait for the development of a new written plan or the rollout of a new initiative. The city must now take a new and different approach.”
Blaming the issues on a previous administration is one of the oldest tricks in the book for politicians. It allows them to have a scapegoat that no longer can have any actionable results taken against them.
Swain also expressed frustration at the lack of progress in reforming the jails since Molina and Mayor Adams took office in January.
“Restarting the clock on reforms because a new administration has taken office can’t be the answer,” Swain said, describing the recent monitor reports as “very disturbing.”
In a nod to the Correction Officers Benevolent Association — the biggest Department of Correction union — Mayor Adams said Tuesday the city will fund the hiring of 578 new officers.
And most likely because they are desperate to prove themselves having already failed, they will hire anyone, which will lead to additional problems.
That is far short of the 3,000 demanded last week by COBA union president Benny Boscio, but still an increase for a department that has by far the best staffing ratio of any jail system in the country.
Molina did not address the seemingly intractable elements of state law and the union collective bargaining agreements which have been cited as among the underlying causes for the system’s resistance to change. Mainly because he couldn’t.
Mary Lynne Werlwas, head of the Prisoners Rights Project of Legal Aid, said the central issue is sweeping away longstanding rules that block holding staff accountable and have allowed staffing dysfunction to continue.
“This is too little, too late,” Werlwas said of the city’s proposals. “We can’t do anything about too late, but we can do something about too little.”
Boscio said he will oppose efforts to convince Swain to “circumvent” labor and civil service laws.
“We will use every tool at our disposal to uphold the rights of our officers as civil servants and we will go to the mat to protect our members during these continued attacks on our profession,” he said in a statement.
The monitor himself, Steve Martin, said the situation is at a crossroads, but proposed a six-month reprieve for the city.
Swain gave the city three weeks to come up with a “concrete” plan and scheduled another hearing for May 24. We are sure they will come up with some great lip service that sounds great on paper, in the mean time, the beatings, understaffing and shanks will continue to be in abundance.