NYC jails still ‘potentially life-threatening’ despite Adams’ headway

The conditions in the troubled city jail systems are still “severe and potentially life-threatening” despite Mayor Eric Adams’ effort to make progress at the facilities during the first few months in office, a new federal monitor reform report says.

The 30-page blueprint for reform was ordered up by Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain last month — telling Department of Corrections Commissioner Louis Molina that she expected “real progress.”

The “action plan” outlines numerous changes — many of which have been suggested over the years — to fix the issues inside the jails.

“The conditions in the jails continue to be of grave concern,” federal monitor Steve Martin writes.

Among the top fixes, Martin says the DOC needs to still address staffing issues with roughly 1,100 staffers calling out each day.

Martin concedes under the new administration that the number of people calling out since has improved, with that figure ballooning to 2,500 last year, but says the current levels are still “far too high.”

A view of the entrance at the Rikers Island
Monitor Steve Martin said the issues in the jails are a “grave concern.”

Some other issues the report calls for are:

  • A June 30 deadline for DOC to resolve its a massive backlog of disciplinary cases.
  • A deadline for the department to implement security recommendations including the development of a “housing and management strategy” for inmates that have engaged in serious acts of violence and “pose a heightened security risk to the safety of other incarcerated individuals and staff.”
  • “A new citywide recruitment campaign to find qualified candidates for the following positions: (1) individuals with correctional expertise to serve in leadership positions, (2) attorneys and support staff for the Trials and Legal Division, (3) staff to backfill civilian roles.”

Martin’s report also offers an optimistic take on the new administration’s focus to reform the jails, saying Molina and he “had frequent and substantive communications.”

“While several actions in the early days of the current administration’s tenure were cause for concern (i.e., termination of the Disciplinary Manager without a bona fide reason and a concerning lack of transparency), as discussed in more detail in the section below, the City and the Department have since taken concrete steps,” the federal monitor writes.

Eric Adams speaks during an announcement on his pick for Department of Correction Commissioner at Brooklyn Borough Hall.
Mayor Adams speaks after announcing his pick for Department of Correction Commissioner, Louis Molina.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/ZUMAPRESS.com

He credits the new commissioner with creating a new leadership structure, a new focus on security, addressing the backlog of misconduct cases and making a timeline to fix the doors at the Robert Davoren Complex.

Martin says the admin will “face obstacles” but ” if the City and the Department approaches them with the courage to meet each obstacle creatively, aggressively, and with the requisite perseverance.”

Mayor Adams said in a statement that he “appreciated the monitor’s partnership and recognition of the important work to build safer jails.”

Louis Molina
Louis Molina was expected by Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain to have “real progress” with the jail system.
Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Shutters

“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,” Adams said, adding “the city is committed to doing it.”

Both sides will be back in court on May 24 to discuss any changes.

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