Under pressure from a federal prosecutor, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised Tuesday to act quickly to enact meaningful reforms to New York City's troubled jail system, calling it a "very bad situation" that was years in the making.
De Blasio's responded a day after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara took the unusual step of warning he may take legal action to force New York City to fix problems identified in a scathing federal review of the city's youth jails. It found them to be extremely violent, unsafe and controlled by guards who rule through "rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force."
"We inherited an incredibly problematic situation at Rikers Island," the mayor said, referring to the 10-jail facility that houses the vast majority of the 11,500 daily city inmates. "One thing we'll always do is tell you very bluntly how bad it is: It's a very bad situation."
Bharara's critical review last month followed a series of stories by The Associated Press and others detailing violent conditions and the maltreatment of mentally ill inmates on Rikers. The prosecutor had given the city 49 days to respond to recommendations made in his report. That period elapsed Monday.
On Tuesday, de Blasio vowed to continue to act swiftly to remedy the problems. He pointed to the appointment of a reform-minded corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, and the allotment of $32.5 million in the budget to improve security and better treat mentally ill inmates, who now make up about 40 percent of the inmate population.
"I am clear and sober about the fact that this is a very thorny situation, years in the making, that we have to undo as quickly as possible," he said.