By Tuesday, the city needs to submit to federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain its plan for fixing the deadly conditions at the Rikers Island jail complex as Southern District prosecutors are pushing for a receiver to take charge. They’re right, and Mayor Eric Adams should embrace the opportunity.
The feds are fed up after decades of city failure to improve Rikers, which just saw its fourth detainee death of the year. Adams is resisting receivership, which most likely will at least delay it for years.
The mayor wants to give new Correction Commissioner Luis Molina a “fair shot” at cleaning up the mess. But the only truly fair move, for Molina as well as the entire Rikers population and workforce, is to agree to a receiver who can drastically speed up the needed changes.
Dashawn Carter, 25, was found dead in his cell last weekend — the fourth dead detainee this year, on top of 16 last year. Slashings and beat-downs of inmates and guards by out-of-control gang members are frequent.
This nightmare has been years in the making; Adams himself has blasted the “generational problems” at Rikers. The last mayor ignored the horrors, hiding behind dubious and expensive plans to just replace the jail with new ones (in neighborhoods that don’t want them). Adams doesn’t own the mess — yet. But he will if he blocks receivership.
The prosecutors have it right: A receiver would have the power “to implement sweeping reforms” that Molina can’t.
Just for starters, he or she can temporarily override union contracts to end the rampant abuse of sick leave that’s left the jails short-staffed, putting inmates and correction officers who do show up for work in constant peril.
On any given day, more than 1,400 jail guards are out “sick” without having to show any proof. Molina’s made some progress in ending that madness, but with lives at stake no commissioner could move fast enough. A scathing city Board of Correction report on this year’s first three deaths in custody found they happened when housing units were left unsupervised thanks to the staffing crisis.
- Tarz Youngblood, the first in-custody death of 2022, died Feb. 27 after the on-duty officer went more than an hour without doing a tour of the housing area, which is required every 30 minutes.
- Herman Diaz, 52, was eating an orange around 10 a.m. on March 18 when he suddenly choked and collapsed when no officer was supervising the area.
In all three incidents, guards didn’t seek to render medical assistance, and left it to other inmates to carry the men to the medical clinic.
But it’s not just the staffing crisis: A receiver can also override city procurement rules, which can make it take years to do something as simple and vital as replacing broken cell doors and locks.
The courts have already set federal monitors over Rikers, but monitors run up huge tabs without changing much (at Rikers or anywhere else). Adams’ new Rikers task force can’t possibly change enough, fast enough. The dysfunction is too great and goes too deep.
Chicago agreed to federal receivership for its jails, and saw rapid improvement. It’d be inhumane (again, to city workers as well as detainees) for New York to stand on its pride and refuse.
With all the fires left burning by his predecessor, the mayor has enough crises on his plate already. Agreeing to a temporary federal takeover of city jails will let him focus on the schools, streets, subways and local economy — areas where the voting public is demanding action.
Accept the help, sir: You’ll save lives at Rikers and make the rest of your job saving the city a little easier.