New York City Comptroller Brad Lander called for a federal receiver to be appointed at the Rikers Island jail complex in order to establish some operational and management reforms to improve conditions for inmates.
Lander spoke at a virtual forum on Oct. 13 where he highlighted the impacts that chronic employee absenteeism, high death toll and rising violence had on both incarcerated individuals and jail staff.
A federal receiver at the jail would mean that both federal and state courts would appoint a neutral party individual to oversee and control functions at Rikers Island to hopefully minimize the violence and disturbances to the facility to maintain some order.
“Admittedly with some trepidation, I have come to the conclusion that to address the short-term crisis – which is rooted largely in deeply entrenched mismanagement of staff and union leadership recalcitrance – a receiver should be appointed,” said Lander on Thursday. “A receiver will not be able to magically fix what has been broken at Rikers for decades. But a receiver would be empowered to make decisions that the City has failed to adequately contend with for many years, whether by lack of will or through inability due to legal, regulatory or other barriers.”
Lander continued to emphasize that appointing a federal receiver would not magically solve all of the numerous problems that currently plague the facility, but would hopefully offer some relief and eradicate all existing and eminent threats to both jail staff and incarcerated individuals.
He also stated that if the functions of the jail were to continue unchecked, problems concerning safety and welfare would continue to exist.
“After so many years, and through the pandemic, the dysfunction has grown into an intractable emergency,” Lander said. “There is little reason to believe that the current system or management can reform itself, and a receiver outside of many of those barriers holds the most chance of enacting the necessary changes for the basic safety of people incarcerated and staff.”
Since the beginning of 2021, 32 people have died at the complex leading to numerous elected officials and jail activists calling for reform before Rikers is set to close in 2026. Lander is, however, the first citywide public official to support a federal receivership of the jail.
Speaking at the forum, Lander highlighted the numerous deaths that have occurred in the jail, saying the facility needed to be closed for good.
“Since the City’s Jails Action Plan was ordered by the courts in June, 10 more people have died, while awaiting their day in court, in the City’s custody,” said Lander. “It is an unacceptable loss. Even as we hope that a receiver can cut through some of the personnel and management inertia that is driving the current crisis of safety on the island, we must remember that Rikers should not remain a place where New Yorkers are incarcerated. The jails there should be shuttered, once and for all.”
Following the Comptroller’s statements, Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Louis Molina responded saying that he and the mayor had been in communication regarding solutions to the repeated crisis at Rikers.
“Mayor Adams and I are committed to fixing the city’s jails and making them as safe and humane as possible,” said Commissioner Molina on Oct. 13. “We have been working diligently to turn this agency around and will continue to work with the Monitor, and other city agencies to keep improving conditions. There has been a lot of progress, and as Comptroller Lander acknowledged, a federal receiver will not magically fix decades of dysfunction and mismanagement. Many of those leading the call for receivership do not understand the amount of support and commitment to this work that’s needed to turn our jails around.”
Last updated 10/17/2022 9:15 am