Leading up to last week's move by the Manhattan U.S. attorney to force New York City's jails into federal receivership, the city's jails commissioner took direct control of a unit that investigates jail deaths and injuries, curtailing full cooperation with federal officials, the New York Times reports. The previously undisclosed move by the commissioner, Louis A. Molina, and the new investigative unit's lack of cooperation with the federal team monitoring Rikers Island reforms, were part of a broader move away from transparency that has angered federal authorities. It has brought the city jails system closer to a federal court takeover than perhaps at any point in its more than 120-year history.
Molina and his staff members have touted progress, pointing to department statistics that show a decrease in deaths, as well as in slashings and stabbings. But the creation of the new, tight-lipped investigative group — known as the special investigations unit — and other moves emanating from the commissioner’s office have called into question whether such statements can be trusted, records and interviews show. The new unit's creation led to a sharp downturn in relations between the city and the court-appointed monitor, which has accused the city of hiding incident reports that reflect badly on the jails. Molina's administrative changes add to the controversies accumulating around conditions at Rikers, where there have been seven deaths this year and 19 last year. City & State reports that a consensus emerged over what to do about the jails from interviews with more than a dozen criminal justice experts. Most experts agree the jail complex needs to be replaced, the population reduced and the culture changed. Many have also called for a federal takeover of the complex. “Our current system is a disaster. People are not safe at Rikers. People are traumatized at Rikers,” said JoAnne Page, president and CEO of The Fortune Society, a nonprofit dedicated to reentry from incarceration and promoting alternatives to incarceration. “That applies to all people – including the staff there.”