Court should consider taking over corrections, Manhattan US attorney warns | SehndeWeb

Rikers Island is on the verge of full federal control.

The city’s jails “are in a state of crisis … and action is desperately needed now,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams wrote in a scathing brief before a federal judge on Tuesday.

Williams threatened to push for the city’s entire Department of Corrections to be placed under a court-appointed receiver, who would have the power to totally revamp the agency and ignore existing union contract rules.

The absence of “dramatic systemic reforms” would leave his office no choice “but to seek a more aggressive remedy” like a court-appointed receiver with full control, he wrote.

Currently, only the prison itself is under federal supervision. Williams noted that more than six years of oversight by Federal Comptroller Steve Martin has led to little improvement.

“We remain alarmed by the extraordinary level of violence and disorder in prisons and the imminent risk of harm that inmates and corrections officers face every day,” Williams wrote to federal judge Laura Taylor Swain, who oversaw business for years.

In an unusual move, Williams asked the court to order Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina and a City Hall representative to attend the next meeting with the Monitor and the federal government on Thursday so they can respond directly. to all questions.

Commissioner of the Department of Correction Louis Molina
Correction Department

Williams said neither Molina “nor department operational staff” attended meetings on April 5 and 14 to discuss the city’s broader plans to improve conditions.

On April 15, the Corrections Department Touted Twitter account how Molina attended the New York International Auto Show at the Javits Center to display some of the agency’s new fleet of vehicles.

Asked about the court case on Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams blamed his predecessors and made vague promises of reform.

“Rikers was a mess,” he told reporters. “And we have to be clear about that. It didn’t start in January. And we will move forward to make it a human place.

A history of violence

Martin, a corrections consultant from Austin, Texas, was named federal comptroller in the summer of 2015 in a sweeping settlement related to a class action lawsuit filed by a group of city inmates who alleged abuse by officers, including excessive isolation and beatings. .

Then-US attorney in Manhattan Preet Bharara later joined the so-called Nunez case, named after the main defendant, citing a “deep-rooted culture of violence” against teenage inmates at Rikers Island.

Under the terms of the court settlement, the DOC took some steps to reduce officers’ use of physical force, such as revising the policy in 2017 to direct officers to avoid punches or batons to the heads of detainees unless their lives are being threatened.

But the escalating violence and inhumane conditions persisted and prompted calls for change from decarceration activists and local politicians who called on Governor Kathy Hochul to bring in the National Guard and pleaded with the President Joe Biden to intervene.

The department has also been plagued by a staffing crisis, with at least 1,000 officers reporting sick on average each day.

Martin’s oversight team itself hired an “independent correctional staffing expert” to analyze how and where officers are deployed. A highly anticipated report on this analysis took over a year to compile and there is no target date for its publication.

The Correction Officers Benevolent Association argued the city should hire at least 2,000 new officers, bringing the system’s total to about 10,000.

But Martin and former prison commissioners have pointed out that hundreds of corrections officers are assigned to administrative duties such as data entry, secretarial work, time management, social services and analysis.

Michael Skelly, a COBA spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment on the possibility of a full court takeover.

“A Radical Remedy”

The appointment of a receiver is rare and generally considered a last resort but not without precedent.

In 2007, the Cook County Temporary Detention Center for Juveniles in Chicago went into receivership. Earl Dunlap, a nationally recognized expert, stepped down in 2015 after implementing a series of reforms.

In 2005, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was taken over by a court-appointed receiver. This takeover had mixed results and remains partially in place.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams speaks about the corruption charges against Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin, April 12, 2022.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams, April 12, 2022.
Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Elizabeth Glazer, director of the mayor’s office of criminal justice from 2014 to 2020, told THE CITY last year that she believed the appointment of a federal receiver, with emergency powers to make unilateral decisions , was the only possible solution.

She and former corrections commissioner Michael Jacobson, who served in the Dinkins and Giuliani administration, also recommended the takeover in a Daily News op-ed last week.

“It’s a drastic remedy,” Glazer said Tuesday, “but I don’t see any other way out at this point.”

“It’s a pretty powerful drug,” she added.

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