The city's main corrections complex on Rikers Island is a roiling disaster tucked neatly away from the rest of us on land in the East River -- an opaque place where the sick and the young can face brutal treatment.
The city is trying to fix the mess. But lasting reform won't happen until all New Yorkers can see what's really going on behind the razor-wire and concrete walls.
That's why an expected City Council vote on Thursday -- on a bill ordering corrections officials to post public quarterly reports on the state of these lockups -- is so crucial.
Sponsored by Councilman Daniel Dromm of Queens, the legislation would lift the shroud off Rikers and detail -- among other things -- how many inmates are tossed into solitary confinement, how many try to commit suicide, and how many are assaulted. The hope is these rays of truth will act as a strong disinfectant, showing us how our tax dollars are being used -- or misused -- and bolstering the push for reform. The council needs to vote yes.
There's no shortage of problems to monitor.
Humanitarian lapses. Rikers Island has become a dumping ground for people with serious mental illnesses. About 40 percent of the total inmate population is now classified as mentally ill -- up from 20 percent in 2006. Many are not getting the kind of treatment they need. The city must fix that problem.
Overuse of solitary confinement. Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara recently reported that on any given day in 2013, 15 percent to 25 percent of adolescents on Rikers were in solitary -- a punishment that can leave kids in particular with significant psychological, physical and developmental scars. If that percentage doesn't shrink dramatically, we'll know we're on the wrong track.
Mounting violence. City Comptroller Scott Stringer says personal injury claims against the city for incidents in Rikers' nine lockups and three others citywide have jumped 114 percent over the last five years. Four Rikers lockups top his list -- reflecting a major violence problem.
Rikers urgently needs oversight. The Dromm bill could create a whole new pack of watchdogs.