Mayor Eric Adams is better off seeing calls for a federal takeover of the Rikers Island jail complex as an opportunity, not a threat.
In a six-page letter to federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain, Southern District prosecutors call for “the appointment of a receiver with independent authority to implement sweeping reforms.” The US Attorney’s Office has been pushing for improvements since 2015, but Mayor Bill de Blasio only let things grow far worse as he chased dreams of new jails rather than fixing the one the city has.
Last year saw 16 deaths of Rikers inmates; three more have died so far in 2022. Slashings and beat-downs of inmates and guards by out-of-control gang members occur regularly.
“We have witnessed how others have failed, now give me a chance,” Adams says. But the “generational problems” he cites at Rikers aren’t so easy to fix — especially since the correction officers’ union is part of the problem.
Union work rules desperately need reform. Amid the pandemic, sick-leave abuse — more than 1,400 correction officers out on any given day, with no obligation to prove illness — put lives at risk, including COs and other jail staff as well as detainees.
A receiver can suspend the terms of collective-bargaining contracts; Adams would have to get tough with a union that’s a natural part of his political base.
To be clear, the Department of Correction needs reform from top to bottom: Management is horribly dysfunctional; accountability, utterly absent. Adams says Correction Commissioner Luis Molina is the man to turn things around, since he did good work as jails chief in Westchester. But Molina’s already made some highly questionable choices.
Notably, he tapped as his driver CO William Aviles, a poster boy for sick-leave abuse who claimed illness more than 160 days last year. And he made Capt. Davelle Williams — who still has an open disciplinary case and in 2020 pleaded guilty to drunk driving and running another car off a Long Island road — the head of his security detail.
And, in an apparent bid to appease the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, he also replaced DOC’s chief of investigation, who worked closely with the court-appointed federal monitor to review use-of-force incidents against detainees going back five years.
Instead of digging in his heels, the mayor needs to undo everything de Blasio did wrong — and a receiver would be a huge help. If Adams truly wants to “get stuff done,” he should make the feds his partners.