As Rikers Island death toll continues to climb, Feds want to take control from Mayor Adams

July 18, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Damian Williams, made a significant announcement on Monday when he declared his office’s intent to file for contempt and seek a court-appointed receiver to address the deteriorating conditions at Rikers Island.

The move reflects increasing concern for the welfare of both inmates and Department of Correction (DOC) staff.

The announcement comes amid a long-standing crisis at Rikers Island, where years of neglect have resulted in numerous human rights violations and a threat to the safety of inmates and staff.

“Rikers Island has been in crisis for years,” Williams said. “This is a collective failure with deep roots, spanning multiple mayoral administrations and DOC commissioners. But after eight years of trying every tool in the toolkit, we cannot wait any longer for substantial progress to materialize.”

The decision to seek a court-appointed receiver marks a significant escalation in the government’s approach to handling the issues at Rikers Island. If appointed, the receiver would report directly to the court and hold independent authority to enforce provisions of the 2015 Consent Decree and other court-ordered relief. Under the previous agreement, the federal monitor can only make recommendations.

In 2015, the United States entered into a Consent Decree with the City of New York and the DOC, aiming to address violations of the constitutional rights of incarcerated individuals at Rikers Island. Despite efforts over the past eight years to address the ongoing unsafe conditions on Rikers Island, a recent report from the Monitor found that the DOC had failed to make substantial progress in reducing the risk of harm to inmates and staff.

The failure of the DOC to adhere to the reforms outlined in the Action Plan and the Consent Decree led to this new drastic step. The ongoing risk to incarcerated individuals and DOC staff has pushed the U.S. Attorney’s office to pursue contempt proceedings and seek additional relief from the Court.

Losing control of Rikers Island would be a significant setback for Mayor Adams, who has struggled to maintain control over the facility amid ongoing criticism. His administration has been marked by a tragic toll of 25 deaths of New Yorkers awaiting trial in city custody since he took office.


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