In an effort to reassert its authority, a New York City agency responsible for protecting the rights of prisoners is suing the Department of Correction and the city over a lack of transparency as the majority of its members called for an outside authority to take control of the jails. The agency, the Board of Correction, filed its suit in Bronx State Supreme Court, seeking to receive unfettered access to surveillance video from the jails. The jails commissioner, Louis Molina, stopped the board from accessing the footage, which allows it to monitor jail conditions at any given moment, earlier this year, the New York Times reports. “We’ve been forced to take the unprecedented step of entering into litigation against the city in order to ensure that we, and our staff, have access to the tools we need to do our jobs,” said board member Rachael Bedard.
The suit arrived the same day that five of the board's eight members called for the jails to be taken over by an independent authority known as a receiver. A federal judge is holding hearing Thursday at which prosecutors and lawyers for detainees are also expected to call for a receiver to head the jails. The judge, Laura Taylor Swain, has expressed a lack of faith in the city’s management, writing in a court filing last month that the mayor had failed to “address the dangerous conditions that perpetually plague the jails and imperil those who are confined and who work there.” The city’s jails, most of which are on Rikers Island in the East River, faced issues that arrived with the pandemic in March 2020. As the jail population rose, correction officers began failing to show up for work by the hundreds. As a result, deaths and physical injuries became far more common, leading to significant scrutiny of the Department of Correction.