NEW YORK — With a judge set to hold an emergency hearing about Rikers Island on Friday morning, a federal monitor is calling for outside help to oversee security for the city’s troubled jails complex.
In a letter submitted to a federal judge Wednesday that was obtained by NY1, monitor Steve Martin says Rikers is undergoing a crisis of leadership — with hazardous conditions and a lack of staffing threatening everyone's safety.
Martin says the city has made no significant progress to alleviate conditions at Rikers since his last report that was issued in September. Despite Mayor de Blasio's plan to increase staff, expedite repairs and open up more housing units, Martin writes:
"The City’s and Department’s plans have a significant void. They do not address the ubiquitous mismanagement and prevalent security failures within the jails," Martin wrote. "Stated bluntly, the City’s and Department’s plans are not sufficient to address the imminent risk of harm to people in custody and Staff flowing from the poor operation of the jails."
In his letter, the monitor also expresses a lack of confidence that the Department of Correction is capable of providing safe conditions at the jail.
Instead, Martin asks the court to consider requiring the appointment of an "external security operations manager" who has "significant expertise in correctional security" in order to move forward.
In addition to the lack of staff, the federal monitoring team found use of force by officers including head strikes, remains high. According to the monitor, the number of incidents in intake areas last month was 170% higher than in August of last year. The number of slashings and stabbings has also increased.
Twelve people have died while in custody of the Department of Corrections so far this year, five of them by suicide. In Martin's letter to the court, he says staff "continues to fail to timely intervene during incidents in which incarcerated individuals threaten or engage in acts of self-harm."
The city's jail system has been overseen by a federal monitor since 2015 as part of a settlement between the city and the U.S. Justice Department from a lawsuit over civil rights violations against juvenile detainees.
Since the city entered the federal agreement — known as the Nunez settlement — conditions at Rikers have fluctuated over the last years and during de Blasio's tenure.
In recent months, Martin has issued several reports describing the deteriorating conditions on the island which include rising incidents of violence among detainees and staff in addition to security concerns that stem from aging facilities.
Earlier this week, lawyers for The Legal Aid Society of New York, which represents class action plaintiffs in the Nunez settlement, submitted a letter in federal court asking a judge to hold an emergency conference and consider ordering people released from the troubled jail complex.
That conference is set to take place Friday morning.