By: Editorial Staff via Novonite
Like a fire out of control, the crisis continues in New York City’s prison system, especially on Rikers Island. So far this year, 18 people have died in the city’s prisons – the highest number since 2013, when twice as many people were behind bars there.
The New York Times now maintains a death count tracker. A hearing in federal court on Thursday could decide whether the city, led by Mayor Eric Adams, will retain control of Rikers. The FBI should take over.
The city’s prison system is a violent hell hole where people are increasingly in danger – and so far Adams has spent his time as mayor trying to put more people in there. In a city reeling from the catastrophic impact of COVID, a severe affordable housing crisis and a widening wealth gap that is enriching the rich while leaving low-income families “underwater”, reversing the bail reform the mayor’s priority for public safety. could lock up more poor people on Rikers.
The crisis at Rikers is exacerbated by the gross mismanagement of the prison system under Mayor Adams. Agent absenteeism is a widespread and well-documented problem. In February, a local NBC News 4 investigation into correctional officers found that “the magnitude of their collective absenteeism is breathtaking.”
Agents skipping work while paying at the expense of the public are a cause for concern. But not for Louis A. Molina, Mayor Adams’ Commissioner of the Department of Correction. His approach to the issue was to fire Sarena Townsend, the DOC’s top internal affairs investigator, reportedly after she refused to “abolish” 2,000 disciplinary cases to hold correctional officers accountable. Last week, the US Department of Justice arrested three correctional officers and charged them with fraud for “lying to stay on sick leave for more than a year.” Perhaps it was a bad idea to fire the widely respected researcher.
But Mayor Adams seems to be drawn to bad ideas, especially when it comes to Rikers and public safety. Study after study shows that bail reform has promoted justice and increased public safety without increasing crime. These facts have not stopped the mayor from blaming his crusade on bail reform for the rise in some crime categories, all to get more people jailed.
You don’t have to be an expert to see the pattern here, and it raises the alarm about the plan to shut down Rikers. In order to close the prison complex, the population there must decrease. But under Adams, the prison population has risen by nearly 600 and will rise even more if the mayor has his way. This endangers people’s lives and the closure of Rikers. This also applies to the mayor’s refusal to follow the closure plan approved in 2019 by the board of the Blasio and the city council. Instead of closing Rikers, the mayor now says the city needs a “plan B.” No one should be surprised.
On Thursday, November 17, the US District Court in Manhattan will hold a hearing where Judge Laura Taylor Swain may order a federal trustee to take over the Rikers Island prison complex. Given the well-documented horrors of Rikers, widespread mismanagement and corruption, and the mayor’s push to imprison more people there, the FBI should step in. and lawyers for people being held at Rikers support a federal takeover.
But while a federal receiver can work to lessen the cycle of mayhem and death at Rikers, it’s unlikely that entity will be tasked with closing the. Mayor Adams needs to take action for that. Stop the scaremongering. Reduce the number of people held on remand at Rikers, starting by working with stakeholders in the justice system to reduce the outrageous delays that put people in jail for a year or more before they appear in court. Meet or even speed up the deadlines in the 2019 plan to close Rikers. And invest deeply in real public safety: housing, healthcare, education and jobs.
On Thursday afternoon, community groups and elected officials will be outside the courthouse calling for Rikers to be shut down. It’s long time to put out the fire.
Gabriel Sayegh is the co-executive director of the Katal Center for Justice, Health and Justicea community organization with members affected by Rikers and mass incarceration.