Can anyone break the cycle of recidivism on Rikers Island? We’re talking about the seemingly endless stream of managerial scandals that plagues one of the largest jail complexes in America.
Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to stop the madness, which is often violent and sometimes fatal. But he needs help from the City Council.
Specifically, he must win a key change in civil service law that would allow him to recruit managers — chief of department down to captains — from outside the ranks of city correction officers.
The mayor is certain to face fierce union pushback on this idea. So it falls to the council to rise to the challenge and back him up.
An amended law shouldn’t be regarded as an indictment of all correction officers. Most of them do an exceedingly tough job with great skill.
But the mayor’s plan plainly signals that an entrenched and grievously flawed managerial culture on Rikers needs a swift and thorough overhaul.
Here’s the rap sheet:
The city has settled five class-action lawsuits against the Department of Correction in the last 25 years — and yet another case is pending.
Personal injury claims for incidents inside the island’s nine facilities have skyrocketed 114 percent in five years.
The contraband problem on Rikers is bad enough that Joseph Ponte — the reformist corrections commissioner hired by de Blasio — has initiated a policy to allow regular searches of the island’s personnel.
Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara has accused Rikers workers of presiding over a “culture of violence” against teenage prisoners and a “pervasive climate of fear.”
An internal report on Rikers violence was scrubbed of 375 incidents that should have been logged as fights, The New York Times reported this week — and the sanitized version was handed over to Bharara.
Best-case scenario? With strong council support, the mayor cleans up Rikers. Worst case? The federal courts wind up doing the job. Either way, Rikers has to change.