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Pretty Much Everyone Now Says It’s Time to Take Rikers Away From the Adams Admin

Federal prosecutors finally call for receivership, and other stories to start your day.

8:52 AM EDT on July 18, 2023

An aerial shot of Rikers Island.

Rikers Island. (Hell Gate)

For the past eight years, Rikers Island has been closely monitored by the federal courts system as well as federal prosecutors, after then-Mayor Bill de Blasio settled a lawsuit over civil rights violations of people held at the jail complex. The settlement installed a federal monitor, who would report to the judge, federal prosecutors, and plaintiffs in the lawsuit about the levels of violence on Rikers, and whether conditions were getting better.

Despite many recommendations from the federal monitor on how to improve the City's jails, things have not gotten better

On Monday, federal prosecutors finally joined the growing chorus—which now includes the City's comptroller, public advocate, and all the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit—that is calling for immediate action to wrest control of the City's jails away from the Adams administration. Even the monitor himself suggested in his most recent report that the current regime is not making things better, and that the situation calls for "additional remedial relief."

“After eight years of trying every tool in the tool kit, we cannot wait any longer for substantial progress to materialize," Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. "That is why my office will seek a court-appointed receiver to address the conditions on Rikers Island." Last week, the federal monitor for Rikers said he plans to ask the judge to place the City in contempt during an upcoming hearing in August—a move that could also pave the way to a federal receiver. 

Since taking office, Mayor Adams, his administration, and his jails commissioner, Louis Molina, have shown near indifference to the requests of the federal monitor and impeded his investigations, going so far as to even cover up the circumstances of serious injuries that have occurred on the island.

On Monday, Adams said that Molina is doing a "goddamn good job." Apparently, federal prosecutors don't agree. 

So what happens now? Nothing, at least immediately. A hearing in front of Judge Laura Swain, who is presiding over the case, is scheduled for August 10. At that hearing, Swain will let the parties present scenarios for how they might begin to argue over whether she should put the jails into receivership. The judge could ultimately move to install a federal receiver, or she could hold the City in contempt in a further effort to compel the City to comply with the consent order and improve conditions in the jails.

A receiver would be able to almost unilaterally move to make changes at Rikers—but it would also place a massive burden on the federal courts to administer a jails system that's literally falling apart. On top of that, the City's chronically absent correctional officers will almost certainly be resistant to outside control, making the job that much harder. 

For the more than 6,000 people on Rikers Island, a number that needs to be halved in order for the complex to close by the legally mandated 2027 deadline, a court date in August will possibly decide whether the rampant violence and chaos in City jails, which the mayor thinks is just fine, will be allowed to continue. 

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