A Manhattan federal judge struck down advocates for Rikers Island inmates on Thursday, blocking the Legal Aid Society from asking the state to take over the Big Apple’s troubled prison system.
Judge Laura Taylor granted a request from the city’s largest legal aid agency to be allowed to hire a “receiver” — or third-party administrator — to oversee Rikers Island and other facilities in the city. Department of Corrections.
While Swain says he is deeply concerned about safety issues at Rikers, the choice of receiver could divert resources away from inmate safety and be counterproductive, he said.
Allowing Legal Aid to sue for the recipient would be “violated and disproportionate to legal restrictions,” the judge added at the end of a lengthy hearing on Thursday.
Legal Aid attorney Mary Lynne Werlwas urged Swain to consider the group’s argument for a receiver, noting that seven years have passed since a federal auditor was appointed to overhaul the prison.
“Continuing in the same way will not bring relief to the plaintiff class,” Werlwas, who represents the inmates at the prison, told the judge.
The lawyer cited a number of concerns, including the use of force by staff, prolonged absences and the inability of guards to prevent inmate suicides.
The crisis in the city’s jails – where 18 people have died this year – has been caught up in many City Hall administrations, which are influenced by politics and concerns. of voters, he said.
The government receiver, said Werlwas, should not be subject to political interests, but should be accountable to the court.
“The receiver is an amazing drug but these are amazing facts,” he said.
However, Swain cited evidence from an October report by a federal inspector appointed to assess the condition of the lock that shows progress has been made at the complex.
“The Department’s leadership team has demonstrated their understanding of both
the big picture of what needs to be achieved and the nature and sequence of everything that needs to change to achieve it,” the report found.
The DOC has successfully filled several leadership positions in the past year, including an executive director and 11 assistant commissioners, according to the report.
At the hearing, DOC Commissioner Louis Molina said they have also hired a crime prevention consultant himself who he hopes will help prevent suicides in the complex.
Federal authorities from the Southern District of New York have said they will not support Legal Aid’s request for a recipient, but have reserved the right to do so in the future.
SDNY attorney Jeffrey Powell said the department is “dismayed” at how long it has taken to make progress on the jail, but added some improvements have already been made.
“There seems to be less and less hope that progress will be made,” he said.
In a statement, Legal Aid said it was disappointed by the judge’s decision.
“We are disappointed that the Court will not allow the Plaintiffs to present their case for the selection of a receiver, but appreciate the Court’s request for the City to act quickly and seriously,” that’s what he said. “The Legal Aid Society will continue to hold the city accountable for the violence and abuse our incarcerated clients face every day.”