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Why the Rikers Island prison should be handed over to federal authorities


By Tuesday, the city must submit to federal judge Laura Taylor Swain its plan to fix the deadly conditions at the Rikers Island prison complex as Southern District prosecutors push for a receiver to take charge. They’re right, and Mayor Eric Adams should rise to the occasion.

Feds have had enough after decades of the city’s failure to improve Rikers, which just saw its fourth inmate death of the year. Adams is resisting receivership, which will likely set her back at least for years.

The mayor wants to give the new commissioner of corrections, Luis Molina, a “fair chance” to clean up the mess. But the only really fair gesture, for Molina as well as for the entire Rikers population and labor, is to accept a receiver which can significantly speed up the necessary changes.

Dashawn Carter, 25, was found dead in his cell last weekend – the fourth inmate to die this year, in addition to 16 Last year. Stabbing and beatings of inmates and guards by out-of-control gang members are common.

This nightmare took years to prepare; Adams himself blasted “generational issues” at Rikers. The last mayor ignored the horrors, hiding behind dubious and expensive plans to simply replace the jail with new ones (in neighborhoods that don’t want them). Adams doesn’t own the mess — yet. But he will if he blocks the receivership.

Prosecutors are right: a receiver would have the power “to implement sweeping reforms” that Molina can’t.

It is clear that the Department of Corrections has lost all control of Rikers Island as inmates continue to be assaulted, stabbed or overdosed on drugs.
Steven Hirsch

Just to start, he or she can temporarily cancel union contracts to end the widespread abuse of sick leave that has left prisons short-staffed, putting inmates and correctional officers who report to work in constant peril.

Every day, more than 1,400 prison guards walked out “sick” without having to present any evidence. Molina made progress in ending this madness, but with lives at stake, no commissioner could act quickly. sufficient. A scathing report from the city’s correctional commission on this year first three deaths in custody occurred when accommodation was left unattended due to the staff crisis.

  • Tarz Youngblood, the first death in custody of 2022, died on February 27 after the duty officer went more than an hour without making the rounds of the living area, which is required every 30 minutes.
  • Herman Diaz, 52, was eating an orange around 10 a.m. on March 18 when he suddenly choked and collapsed when no officers were watching the area.

In all three incidents, guards made no attempt to provide medical assistance and left it to other inmates to transport the men to the medical clinic.

Why the Rikers Island prison should be handed over to federal authorities
Local residents quickly turned down Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to replace Rikers Island with smaller community jails.
Gina M Randazzo/ZUMA Press Wire

But it’s not just the personnel crisis: a receiver can also override the city’s procurement rules, which can cause years do something as simple and vital as replacing broken cell doors and locks.

The courts have placed federal monitors on Rikers before, but the monitors run huge tabs without changing too much (at Rikers or elsewhere). Adams’ new Rikers task force can’t change fast enough. The dysfunction is too big and goes too deep.

Chicago accepted federal receivership for its prisons and saw rapid improvement. It would be inhumane (again, to city workers as well as inmates) for New York to stand on its pride and refuse.

With all the fires left lit by his predecessor, the mayor already has enough crises on his plate. Agreeing to a temporary federal takeover of the city’s prisons will allow him to focus on schools, streets, subways and the local economy – areas where the voting public demands action.

Accept the help, sir: you’ll save lives in Rikers and make the rest of your job a little easier saving the city.

New York Post

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