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As Rikers Island Violence Rises, Critics Back Federal Takeover

Perils plaguing New York City's Rikers Island jail complex in New York City have persisted for decades, but pressure to reform dangerous and unsanitary conditions has mounted as the facility faces a potential takeover by the federal government, and rates of violence against detainees and correction officers rise, reports Courthouse News Service. Plans are on track to close Rikers by 2027 and replace it with borough-based jails, but there is widespread agreement that the facility needs serious fixes in the meantime. On Thursday, a panel of experts weighed in on the potential of federal receivership as the city released a plan to reform the jail and the fifth person this year died in custody.

Slashings and stabbings at Rikers are occurring at four times the rate in 2020, said one panelist. Exhausted staff are forced to work triple shifts, while some floor officer posts remain empty. Flooded toilets and faulty plumbing cause severe medical problems. Bits of crumbling buildings are turned into makeshift weapons.

“Put simply, we have reached rock bottom,” said Liz Glazer, founder of the organization Vital City and former director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. Glazer advocated for the federal government’s control of Rikers, as did others on the panel who said it’s not an ideal solution, but a last resort in a clearly untenable situation. A federal receiver would be able to circumvent state laws and contracts with correction officers that include terms that allow for unlimited sick leave and, choosing preferred posts outside of housing units. Some of more than 200 directives dictating how the correction department operates haven’t been reviewed or updated since their 1996 implementation, said Stanley Richards, deputy CEO of Fortune Society and the former first deputy commissioner of the Department of Correction.

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