Governor Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Tuesday allowing courts to hold more hearings remotely in order to free up jail staff to help with the escalating crisis conditions at Rikers Island.
“No incarcerated person, no corrections officer, and no family member should have to endure the reality of Rikers as it exists today, and we must do everything in our power to prevent New Yorkers from languishing in Rikers awaiting their day in court,” Hochul said in a Sept. 28 statement. “While more work needs to be done collaboratively with all levels of government, this executive order is an important step to alleviate capacity concerns and help protect New Yorkers.”
Hochul’s order gives more discretion to courts in New York City to hold hearings virtually, thereby reducing the amount of corrections officers needed to transport detainees from jails to courthouses and reallocating them to housing and supervision duties at the beleaguered prison complex.
The governor is also working with the state’s Office of Court Administration to see if there are other ways to speed up hearings and her office will provide more resources for video calls if needed.
The directive is in effect for a month until Oct. 28 and comes amid worsening conditions at the city lockup, where a dozen incarcerated people have died this year.
Reports have emerged of detainees forced into crowded and filthy holding cells and mass absenteeism of Department of Corrections staff.
Mayor Bill de Blasio finally paid a closed-to-the-press visit to Rikers Monday evening after weeks of public pressure, but decided not to speak to any incarcerated people or rank-and-file staff during his tour.
Hochul previously freed almost 200 detainees held on technical parole violations when she signed the so-called Less is More act into law on Sept. 17.