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Emergency hearing held on future of Rikers Island after recent federal monitor reports

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By: Natalie Duddridge via CBSNY

NEW YORK — Demonstrators on Tuesday protested outside a federal court in Manhattan, where an emergency hearing was held to look into how Rikers Island is being operated.

As CBS2 found out, a judge is inching closer to shifting control of the troubled jail.

Protesters, including people formerly incarcerated at Rikers, say conditions at the jail are inhumane.

“It’s slowly becoming a death camp,” Henry Robinson Simmons said.

Simmons says in 2017 he spent 77 days at Rikers for a probation violation.

“I was attacked, my own self,” he said.

For decades, Rikers has been criticized for its mismanagement and dysfunction. Former Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the jail would close in 2027, but during the pandemic crime spiked and the prison population only increased.

Since Mayor Eric Adams took office, attorneys representing inmates say 22 people have died in New York City jails. Two weeks ago, Rikers said it would no longer publicly announce deaths.

“We know that Department of Correction has been hiding death, violence from the monitor, so they can’t be trusted, need an independent person,” Legal Aid Society attorney Marva Brown said.

Demonstrators demanded that the federal court appoint a receiver to take over the jail to improve conditions.

“A receiver would be a person appointed by the court,” Legal Aid Society staff attorney Kayla Simpson said.

Simpson said Tuesday’s hearing reviewed a federal monitor report that questioned the jail’s handling of two recent deaths and three serious injuries.

“To leave a person naked in a cage for hours after being seriously assaulted, or to leave a man in his 80s rear cuffed by himself for four hours,” Simpson said.

The judge said her confidence was “shaken” and ordered all parties involved to meet and weigh options for the future of the jail.

“People think years of dysfunctionality is going to be fixed because of a receiver. If I compare our 18 months to our previous eight years, you are seeing a qualitative difference,” Adams said.

The mayor and Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina are defending Rikers. On Monday, they allowed CBS2’s Marcia Kramer to exclusively review videos in question.

In a statement on Tuesday, Molina said, “This administration is committed to doing everything it can to continue that reform and to enhance and improve operations and safety for the people that work in our jails and those placed in our custody.”

The next hearing will be held in August.

The DOC says since taking office, Molina has reduced use-of-force incidents by 14%.

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