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Federal Judge Holds New York City in Contempt Over Rikers Jail Issues

A federal judge held New York City in contempt Thursday for failing to cooperate with the federal monitor tracking violence and uses of force at Rikers Island and other city jails. Judge Laura Taylor Swain criticized the city for a series of moves that weren’t fully disclosed by the Department of Correction to the monitor as required by court orders, including the recent creation of a housing unit for detainees with histories of setting fires. The contempt order was fueled by part by the city’s argument that it didn’t fully understand a requirement to consult the monitor on new initiatives, reports the New York Daily News. “The city’s profession of a lack of understanding of court orders and the meaning of the word ‘proactive’ regarding the monitoring team are frankly preposterous,” Swain said during a hearing in the Nunez class-action case, which could bring a federal court takeover of the jail system. “The department’s blatant failure here is unacceptable and in a word, contemptuous.” Swain threatened to levy fines of “four figures” a day if the city and the Correction Department did not show measured improvement in dealing with the monitor.

Lynelle Maginley-Liddie, the city’s new correction commissioner, told Swain she was “entirely committed to communication and transparency.” Swain directed the Correction Department to work with the monitor to create a new set of statistics to track violence and staff use of force. That part of the order may relate to the monitor’s statement last month that it does not trust the department’s stabbing and slashing statistics. Swain directed Maginley-Liddie to promote Nunez liaison Kimberly Joyce to a deputy commissioner post to give her more authority and to launch a “high-profile campaign” to make it clear all Correction Department employees must cooperate with the monitor. One of the city’s lapses was failing to tell the monitor it had opened its Arson Reduction Housing Unit, something the monitor learned from an anonymous source. It emerged that the cells in the unit did not have fire safety systems installed. Swain gave the city two months to comply with her ruling. She also granted the city an extension until March to file a response to the motions in favor of receivership filed by the Legal Aid Society, lawyers for detainees, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and numerous other groups. The judge’s ruling Thursday delays a decision on whether to impose a federal receiver to operate the jail system at least until early summer.


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