Opinion: Rikers Crisis Demands Federal Receiver

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By: Gabriel Sayegh via City Limits

Like a fire out of control, the crisis continues in New York City’s jail system, especially at Rikers Island. So far this year, 18 human beings have died in the city’s jails—the most since 2013, when twice as many people were behind bars there.

The New York Times now maintains a “death count” tracker. On Thursday, a hearing in federal court could decide whether or not the city, under Mayor Eric Adams, will maintain control of Rikers. The feds should take over.

The city jail system is a violent hellhole where people are increasingly in danger—and so far, Adams has spent his time as mayor trying to cage more people there. In a city reeling from the catastrophic impact of COVID, a severe affordable housing crisis, and a growing wealth gap that makes the rich richer while leaving low-income families “under water,” the mayor’s public safety priority is rolling back bail reform so he can lock up more poor people on Rikers.

Exacerbating the crisis at Rikers is the gross mismanagement of the jails system under Mayor Adams. Absenteeism among officers is a widespread and well-documented problem. Back in February, a local NBC News 4 investigation about correctional officers found that “the magnitude of their collective absenteeism is breathtaking.”

Officers skipping work while on the public’s dime raises concerns. But not for Louis A. Molina, Mayor Adams’s commissioner of the Department of Correction. His approach to the problem was to fire the DOC’s top internal affairs investigator, Sarena Townsend, allegedly after she refused to “get rid of” 2,000 disciplinary cases to hold correctional officers accountable. Last week the U.S. Department of Justice arrested three correctional officers and charged them with fraud, for “lying to stay on sick leave for over a year.” Perhaps firing the widely respected investigator was a bad idea.

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