New York City officials will return to federal court to seek the approval of their proposed Action Plan to address the crisis at the Rikers Island jail facility and to prevent federal receivership of the facility.
The May 24 hearing comes days after the fifth confirmed fatality at the facility this year, as confirmed by the Department of Corrections. In response to the return to federal court, members of the Campaign to Close Rikers Island issued a series of statements decrying the movement against federal receivership, while still maintaining that their priority was to close the facility – not to explicitly endorse or not endorse receivership.
“A receiver may be able to cut through some of the dysfunction accumulated from decades of political cowardice, appeasement of COBA, and disregard for incarcerated people, but Rikers cannot be fixed,” said Darren Mack, Co-Director of Freedom Agenda. “It must be closed, and the Mayor should be taking every opportunity to expedite those plans.”
The Action Plan is still in the works, but aims to eliminate suffering and death within the corrections facility while still maintaining the institution in city control.
“Since taking office and working with the monitoring team, we have seen reductions in use of force and assaults on staff, increased searches for weapons and contraband, and fewer officers out on sick leave, but we must go much further,” said Mayor Adams in a May 17 statement. “As the plan makes clear, with the proposed time, we have a strategy to aggressively untangle the dysfunction that has plagued the island and set it on a path of real and enduring reform. We appreciate the monitor’s partnership and recognition of the important work to build safer jails. We know that there is much more difficult work to be done, and the city is committed to doing it.”
A federal receivership transfers the authority of a city or private institution to the federal government. In the case of Rikers Island, this would allow state governments to supersede local laws, hire and fire whomever, make budgetary decisions, improve disciplinary systems and change policies/union contracts.
“Today’s hearing may not result in a federal receivership of the Rikers jails, but the City still must conceive of an actionable plan to promptly and effectively reduce both the number of New Yorkers incarcerated there, and the number of officers on payroll,” said Tracie Gardner, Vice President with the Legal Action Center. “Right now, the math isn’t mathing – asks to hire more staff while the staff already hired won’t even show up, and more and more New Yorkers being imprisoned there in dangerous and deadly conditions while the City claims to be moving towards its closure? We need radical change now to truly end the ongoing horror at Rikers.”
However, advocates for federal receivership believe that the work outlined in the Action Plan must be hastened or does not go far enough, especially following the death of the fifth person incarcerated at the facility this year alone. Many activists believe the only way to truly eradicate the risk of harm at the institution – including the Rose M. Singer Center which houses women (also called Rosie’s) – would be to close it or enact a federal receivership.
“The tragic death of Mary Yehudah highlights the urgency of getting women out of NYC’s deadly jails right now, and advancing plans to close Rosie far sooner than 2027 as the city is planning,” said Sharon White-Harrigan, Executive Director of the Women’s Community Justice Association. “A focus from this administration on immediate decarceration for women and gender-expansive people would show they are serious about change.”