A federal prosecutor said Monday his office is seeking to have control of New York City’s trouble-plagued Rikers Island jail taken away from Mayor Eric Adam’s administration, calling conditions there a “collective failure with deep roots.”
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York said Rikers “has been in crisis for years” over several mayors’ administrations and leaders of the corrections system and he favors a court-appointed outside authority to take charge of the complex.
“But after eight years of trying every tool in the toolkit, we cannot wait any longer for substantial progress to materialize,” he said in a statement, adding that his office would seek to have a court-appointed receivership put in place.
Adams has resisted the idea of a federal takeover of the system and has said his administration has been taking steps to stabilize Rikers, which was hit hard by the pandemic.
In an email response, a spokesperson for City Hall said the administration’s efforts had been having a positive impact in some areas that a federal monitor had noted and questioned what had changed.
Williams said his office would pursue contempt proceedings against the city after a court-appointed monitor last week filed a report saying the city hadn’t met its obligations under a series of court orders pertaining to conditions inside Rikers.
In that report, the monitor said the “pace of reform has stagnated” and that jail officials had failed to report incidents of violence.
Another report earlier this month condemned conditions at jail facilities, citing mold- and vermin-infested areas among other issues.
In a hearing in June, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain told attorneys for the city and Rikers detainees to formally discuss a potential structure for a federal receivership, and said she would consider it in August.
Advocates for those detained at Rikers have loudly called for a receivership, citing grim realities such as the deaths of 19 people last year, following 16 fatalities the year before. Six people have died so far this year.
The Legal Aid Society praised Williams’ decision to push for federal oversight saying in a statement, “Too many lives have been lost and damaged due to the city’s inability to manage the jails humanely. We look forward to working together to seek the relief necessary to end this culture of brutality.”