The federal monitor’s latest report regarding Rikers Island has delivered a bleak assessment, revealing that the facility continues to pose significant threats to both inmates and staff.
The report explicitly states, “The jails remain dangerous and unsafe, characterized by a pervasive, imminent risk of harm to both people in custody and staff.”
It added, “The Monitoring Team is disturbed by evidence that suggests the alarming conditions reported to the Court during the August 10, 2023 Status Conference have only worsened.”
Steven Martin, who has been monitoring the conditions at Rikers Island since his appointment in 2015, and his team squarely place the blame on the city Department of Correction (DOC).
The DOC has been criticized for its continual failure to address the systemic issues in the jail, even after numerous opportunities to correct them.
Detailing the gravity of the situation, the report states, “Over the last few months, the Department’s efforts have been limited and ineffective, with few concrete plans for solving the intractable problems despite clear direction from the Court to ‘make urgently needed changes’ and ‘to make up for lost time and increase the safety and rational and appropriate operation of the institution[s] as soon as possible,'” referencing recent directives from Laura Taylor Swain, the federal judge overseeing the case.
The report notes that since the year’s onset, nine individuals have died either while under DOC custody or shortly after their release.
Furthermore, incidents of violence have surged, with 91 reported stabbings or slashings during August and September alone, marking a 30% rise from the same period in the preceding year.
Since Mayor Eric Adams took office in January 2022, a total of 28 DOC detainees have died.
Alarmingly, correction officers themselves have been part of the problem, with 31 suspensions in just two months due to excessive use of force.
The report mentioned, “It has been over two years since the Monitoring Team first raised concerns about the deteriorating conditions in the jails.”
Given the stagnant situation and the severity of the findings, the report might bolster the call for federal receivership of Rikers Island.
This would mean wresting control of the city’s jail system away from the DOC. Several entities have advocated for this shift, including federal prosecutors, the Legal Aid Society, and more than a dozen City Council members.
In an August hearing, Judge Swain hinted at her openness to such a move, stating, “The court made clear that should defendants fail to make progress, the court would agree to move towards receivership.”
The upcoming hearing for the case is set for late November, but the soonest a federal receiver might be designated is the following year.