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Release: Federal Court Holds Mayor Adams’s  Dept. of Correction in Contempt As Receivership Looms

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Friday, December 15, 2023

Contact: Yonah Zeitz, yonah@katalcenter.org • 347-201-2769

Follow on Twitter @KatalCenter • #ShutRikers

Federal Court Holds Mayor Adams’s  Dept. of Correction in Contempt As Receivership Looms 

Ahead of Yesterday’s Hearing, Community Groups, Elected Officials, and Directly Impacted People Rallied To Call for Federal Courts to Take Over Rikers

Statement by Katal Center 

New York, NY: Yesterday, a federal court in Manhattan held a hearing about the ongoing crisis at the Rikers Island Jail Complex. At the hearing, Judge Laura Taylor Swain held the city in contempt for “failing to cooperate with the federal monitor tracking violence and uses of force at Rikers Island and other city jails.” The Judge went on to say, “The department’s blatant failure here is unacceptable and in a word, contemptuous.” At the hearing, Judge Swain threatened hefty fines to the city, mandated that the DOC improve their tracking of violence and staff uses of force, and continued to consider taking control of city jails away from Mayor Adams and appointing an independent federal receiver.

Kaeshalee Vega, Member of the Katal Center, said: “It is incredibly frustrating that Judge Laura Taylor Swain did not grant the appointment of an independent receiver to take control of Rikers to improve conditions. We have been working on this for so long. Our communities have been taking action in support of this for over a year. I remember the first rally we held calling for the receiver was in November 2022. I was there with my little one and spoke about the injustices that my friend was going through while being detained at Rikers. Since then, nothing has changed. The conditions under this Mayor have progressively gotten worse. I understand that the Mayor appointed a New Commissioner to run Rikers, but all of these commissioners are under his management. In the previous commissioner’s tenure, we lost at least 28 people. People are still dying and suffering. This is the most concerning part for me that we have lost so many people who will no longer be here with us. How can you ignore that and dismiss the urgent need to improve conditions? I try so hard to remain optimistic, but we are living at a time where our government and our current Mayor, fails us again and again. I wish they would come to our rallies and hear all of the stories. It is so hard hearing all of the hurt that families are going through. We simply cannot wait another year and allow this Mayor to continue to harm New Yorkers detained at Rikers Island. I strongly urge the judge not to give them any more time to kill our loved ones. The Mayor must shut down Rikers, but until then, we need a federal receivership to save lives!”

Yonah Zeitz,  Director of Advocacy of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice: “It’s telling that Mayor Adams’s Dept of Correction was held in contempt for the dumpster fire that is Rikers. Since Mayor Adams took office, the conditions at Rikers have gotten worse – at least 28 people have died in the city jails – and the mismanagement by the Department of Correction is unconscionable and untenable. The federal monitor has made it clear that he is beyond ‘frustrated’ and ‘exhausted’ by the lack of compliance by the DOC to address the high levels of violence. Over the last few months, we have seen a growing alignment among state and federal prosecutors, public defenders, former city and correctional executives, and state-wide civil rights groups who agree Mayor Adams has failed to manage the city’s jail system effectively and safely. The City Council should join the growing calls for receivership and pass Resolution 669, which calls for a federal receiver. This is an immediate action the Council can take to relieve suffering at Rikers until it is shuttered.”

 If the mayor is committed to shutting Rikers – like he stated in an op-ed this morning – Adams should support Legal Aid’s motion for receivership. Adams should cut the city’s jail population and the budgets used for caging people, shut down Rikers, and invest in things that produce real public safety: housing, healthcare, education, jobs.”

Background:  While calls for a federal receiver have circulated for some time, substantial, widespread support for a federal receiver has grown dramatically since 2022 (see full list of supporters here). Many elected leaders in New York have called for a federal receiver, including NY Attorney General Letitia James, Comptroller Brad Lander, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, nearly 20 City Council members, and over two dozen state legislators. In June, community groups worked with PA Williams to introduce City Council Resolution 669, which calls for federal receivership. The resolution is now pending in City Council with 18 co-sponsors.

 As Vital City explains, a receiver would have the full power and authority to direct the day-to-day operations as “an arm of the court, independent of the politics, bureaucracy, and other dysfunctional structures that perpetuate the harm.” A federal receiver could cut through the red tape and political obstacles that contribute to the ongoing cycle of chaos at Rikers and improve conditions for people incarcerated and employed there.

The Adams administration has until March to file a response to the receivership motion filed by the Legal Aid Society and the U.S. Attorney’s office, along with amicus briefs by numerous other groups and elected officials.

About the campaign: #ShutRikers is a campaign of the Katal Center for Equity, Health, and Justice. Katal and our allies are working to cut the correctional populations and the budgets used for caging people; shut down Rikers Island; and invest in real public safety: housing, health care, education, and jobs. 

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