New York City Mayor Eric Adams Fights Federal Government Taking Over Rikers Island

New York City Mayor Eric Adams Fights Federal Government Taking Over Rikers Island

The Legal Aid Society filed paperwork Monday asking the federal government to take control of the Rikers Island correctional facility away from New York City leadership.

The New York Times reports that Legal Aid lawyers who represent Rikers detainees filed a request for an outsider, known as a receiver, to run the facility where almost 6,000 people are held. The letter could be the opening salvo in a drawn-out process that will determine the future of the facility.

Judge Laura T. Swain will now decide whether to appoint a receiver. While Legal Aid lawyers are in support of a federal monitor, none of the other parties named in the case—including the city government, the monitor, Steve Martin, and the Department of Justice (DoJ)—support the appointing of a monitor, although the DoJ said it might join the request later or submit its own request for other measures.

The leadership of Rikers Island and its issues have drawn the ire of many city politicians, including New York City Councilwoman Tiffany Cabán. Eighteen Rikers inmates have died this year alone. Additionally, a report filed by Martin found the monthly rate of stabbings at the facility “increased exponentially” in 2021 and increased further this year.

“Uses of force remain rampant with few consequences; investigations and staff discipline face huge backlogs; and security failures abound in jails effectively left unsupervised,” the Legal Aid letter stated, adding that only a receiver could “reverse the city’s persistent failure to follow this court’s orders.”

The use of force by correction officers on inmates, which Martin was tapped to address in 2015, has also increased since he was appointed. Many of the issues at Rikers are the result of staff absenteeism that began during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by Martin, between 2,000 and 8,000 Rikers Island correctional workers called out sick each day in Sept. 2021.

Things have improved under new jails commissioner Louis Molina, but nearly 800 Rikers employees, more than 10% of the facility’s workforce, are still failing to show up for work.

Despite the numerous issues at the facility, including multiple officers being charged for faking sick leave to avoid working, New York City Mayor and former NYPD officer Eric Adams has continued to fight the federal government taking over the facility.

Lawyers and advocates for the inmates say the appointment of a receiver to monitor Rikers island would help address urgent needs at the facility. Unlike the monitor, the receiver would have the authority to bypass institutional barriers, including a union contract giving correction officers unlimited sick leave and a state law prohibiting the city from filling certain posts with non-union employees.