Damian Williams, Manhattan’s top federal prosecutor, is asking that an outside authority take control of New York City’s jails, including the Rikers Island jail complex. It is a powerful push added to a call previously made by prisoners' lawyers, the New York Times reports. The move could help convince a judge to take away Mayor Eric Adams’ control of the jails. Williams said in a statement that Rikers has been in a crisis for years, “a collective failure with deep roots, spanning multiple mayoral administrations” and correction commissioners. “But after eight years of trying every tool in the tool kit,” Williams said, “we cannot wait any longer for substantial progress to materialize.”
Williams’ office said it would also seek to have the city held in contempt of court “to address the ongoing risk of harm” to detainees and jails staff. U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain will be the one to decide whether a takeover is necessary. A spokesman for City Hall said that in the past six months the department had reduced slashings, stabbings, assaults on staff and injuries to people in custody, among other encouraging statistics. Nineteen people died while being held in city jails in 2022, or directly after they were released, the most in nearly a decade. Six more have died this year. The prosecutor’s statement comes amid reports from a federal monitor who oversees New York jails that accused city officials of hiding important information about troubling episodes of violence and neglect. Swain has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 10 where lawyers for detainees and Williams’s office are expected to express their formal recommendations for receivership.