“Brian got busted on a narco rap. He beat the rap by ratting on some bikers. He said: ‘Hey, I know it’s dangerous, but it sure beats Rikers’”—Jim Carroll
If you weren’t watching NY1 last Friday night, you likely missed news of a bombshell report issued by the federal monitor who oversees the city’s massive jails complex on Rikers Island.
The report details the Department of Correction’s response to five gruesome incidents with inmates this month that raise serious questions about whether there could be a federal takeover of Rikers from the city.
It’s a bloody laundry list from May 11 to May 20. One inmate was left a quadriplegic after officers took him down and he repeatedly hit his head. Another prisoner – in his 80s – was handcuffed behind his back and left alone in a pen without a sink or toilet for at least four hours.
The 19-page report also says that the death of a prisoner by apparent suicide last month wasn’t promptly reported to the federal monitor, who only learned about the incident from the media.
“There is significant cause for concern about the imminent risk of harm to people in custody and concomitant practice failures by the Department,” concludes the report, which also basically says the Department is as transparent as mud when reporting to the federal monitor’s investigators.
“With very few exceptions, the information related to these incidents was only provided to the Monitoring Team upon request, required significant and repeated follow-up, and even then, certain requests for information remain outstanding,’’ the report said.
It’s nice to know that it’s not just the media that sometimes gets stiff-armed by local officials, but if you want to effect change, issuing a report on the Friday before a holiday weekend may not be the smartest move.
In a statement, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said his department is turning the corner since he started running the department last year.
“We have brought this organization back from the brink of collapse and we will not be deterred in continuing our good work,” Molina said.
In a separate letter sent yesterday to the federal monitor, Steve Martin, about three of the cases, Molina raised the ante:
“To describe what occurred in these three cases as evidence of lack of cooperation is wrong. Hyperbole is always unfortunate, and it permeates the last pages of your May 24 letter,” he wrote.
This is all a far cry from the sort-of kumbaya deal the city brokered with federal prosecutors and the Legal Aid Society in 2015 that created the federal monitor for Rikers and avoided a takeover.
At the time, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara heralded the agreement because it could help “fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence.” But it just sounds like the same old song in last week’s report issued by the federal monitor.
Instead of granting a takeover, a federal judge last November gave the city more time to improve things with the city’s jails.
“This team needs to be given the time required to turn things around,’’ Commissioner Molina said at the time.
But after reading this report, it’s unclear if time will heal anyone’s wounds. It’s scary to think what could happen behind bars in June.