Humanitarian group Campaign Zero (CZ) joined the calls for Rikers Island to be placed on Federal Receivership before the 2027 planned closure of the facility to end the death and suffering activists say regularly occurs at the prison.
CZ launched Rikers in Crisis, a comprehensive research site that documents the persistent and willful failures by Mayor Eric Adams’ administration in its first 135 days in office. During the Adams administration, four detainees on Rikers have lost their lives and tens of thousands more medical appointments have been missed.
“How many more people have to die at Rikers under Mayor Adams’ watch before someone steps in?” said Campaign Zero Executive Director DeRay Mckesson on May 16, who was appointed to Mayor Adams’s transition team, serving on the Equity Committee. “Instead of solving this humanitarian crisis, Mayor Adams has made it worse by firing those who refused to do his corrupt bidding, protecting the unethical and dangerous behavior of the corrections union and making a mockery of the current monitoring process.”
CZ believes that a court-appointed Federal Receivership would transfer the authority from the city to the Federal government through a receiver – allowing state government to supersede local laws, hire and fire whomever, make budgetary decisions, improve disciplinary systems and change policies/union contracts.
“Without the ability to completely reform uniform leadership at Rikers, rather than continuing the toxic cycle of promoting from within, there cannot be meaningful change,” said Sarena Townsend, a partner at Townsend, Mottola & Uris Law and former Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Department of Correction (DOC). “Without completely reforming the disciplinary system – for misconduct committed by both detainees and staff – there cannot be true accountability.”
For a Federal receiver to be appointed, the plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation would have to petition the Court for such action. These negotiations would lead to the appointment of a receiver or a committee of receivers, determine the specific powers they would wield, and set a timeline for the termination of receivership with the receiver getting all power necessary to bring Rikers Island into compliance. Once sustainable achievements are made, the receiver returns power to the city.
Federal intervention at Rikers has become a much more popular idea in recent weeks, as the condition of the facility continues to decline during Adams’ tenure as Mayor. The idea of federal intervention was raised by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a recent letter to the New York State Southern District Court on April 19.
“Absent a commitment to expeditiously make the dramatic systemic reforms identified by the Monitor and to bring in corrections experts from outside the Department to revamp the agency’s operations and staffing practices, we will be left with no other option but to seek more aggressive relief, which could involve seeking the appointment of a receiver with independent authority to implement sweeping reforms and to take all necessary actions to comply with the Consent Judgment and Remedial Orders and implement the Monitor Recommendations,” said the DOJ letter. “We remain alarmed by the extraordinary level of violence and disorder at the jails and the ongoing imminent risk of harm that inmates and correction officers face every day.”