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U.S. Attorney May Ask Federal Court to Run Rikers Island Jails

Manhattan's U.S. Attorney raised the prospect of placing New York City's Rikers Island jail complex under a federal court’s control, an extraordinary step that would amount to a no-confidence vote in New York City’s ability to reverse the crisis that has intensified over the past 18 months, reports the New York Times. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams told a federal judge that the city had failed to say how it would remedy the chaos and added that if it did not make “dramatic systemic reforms” and bring in outside experts, his office would be “left with no other option but to seek more aggressive relief.”That could include seeking the appointment of an outside official to run the jail, he said. The letter was filed with Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who has presided over the long-running case that led to the appointment of a monitor who oversees jail reforms. The city’s jail system has about 7,700 staff members, with most on Rikers Island, a complex with eight separate jails that hold about 5,500 people.

A receiver — whom the court would appoint to run the complex — could face obstacles in improving conditions at Rikers. The daily absenteeism of more than a third of the correction officers has led to inhumane conditions for detainees and staff alike. Sixteen people held in city jails died last year, the most since 2013, and three more have already died this year. The gaps in staffing have meant that those incarcerated — most of whom have yet to be tried — have often gone without food, water and much-needed medical care. A report filed in March by monitor Steve Martin found that violence had “become normalized.” In his letter, Williams said his office was alarmed by “the extraordinary level of violence and disorder at the jails and the ongoing imminent risk of harm that inmates and correction officers face every day.”


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