A federal judge ordered the head of New York City's jails to appear at an upcoming status conference on conditions at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex, after prosecutors said the situation had become so dire that it might be necessary to install court supervision over the beleaguered system to institute necessary reforms.
U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain directed city Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina to attend the session scheduled for Tuesday.
She issued the order after getting a letter earlier in the week from the office of U.S. Attorney Damian Williams.
In the letter, prosecutors said, “The jails are in a state of crisis, inmates and staff are being seriously injured, and action is desperately needed now,” and questioned whether the city and corrections department had “the ability, expertise, and will to swiftly make the changes necessary to bring true reform.”
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Sixteen inmates died at Rikers last year, and three have died so far in 2022.
Prosecutors went on to suggest that more aggressive steps could be sought, including putting an independent authority in place to implement reforms.
In her order handed down Thursday, the judge noted “the gravity and urgency of the security situation,” and “the consequent need for clarity as to planned changes and the implementation.”
In a statement, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said Molina “is laying the groundwork for long-term change.”
“Fixing Rikers is critically important, a moral imperative, and we need to get it right. But to do that, we need the opportunity to implement our plan,” he said. “These are generational challenges, deeply ingrained, and no administration can solve them in less than four months. We look forward to continuing our close collaboration with the federal monitor and all other stakeholders.”