NYC Legal Aid Society to ask feds to take over the city’s troubled jails

New York City’s largest legal aid nonprofit is slim up its efforts for a federal takeover of the Big Apple’s troubled jail system — as violence at the hands of corrections officers spiked to the highest levels since 2016.

The Legal Aid Society intends to formally ask Manhattan federal Judge Laura Swain to order a receivership of Rikers Island and other city Department of Correction facilities on Dec. 15, argued it was clear from a recent monitor report that the feds needed to step in.

The report, which was released late last month, found that the use-of-force rate this year was more than double what it was six years ago — 10.24 per 100 inmates versus 3.96 in 2016 — when the city agreed to a consent decree to reduce the excessive violence by officers.

“The consent judgment was entered more than seven years ago, and to date, the City has not substantially complied with the core provisions of that judgment and the four remedial orders that followed,” Kayla Simpson, staff attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.

An NYC Department of Corrections vehicle leaves the Rikers Island facility in Queens, in New York, US, February 14, 2018.
The Legal Aid Society hopes to receive Department of Correction facilities in December.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

“The violence in the city jails is worse today than at the outset of the lawsuit because the City has persistently failed to follow court orders and protect the people in its custody. We can wait no longer.”

The letter, filed in federal court Monday, says the nonprofit will file its request for an outside agency to run the city jails on Dec. 15, the earliest date the lawyers previously agreed it could be filed.

“[T]he Monitor cited the prevalence of ‘avoidable, unnecessary and excessive uses of force,’ and the astonishing number of use of force incidents that occur where staff had violated basic duties such as locking cell doors or properly applying restraints,” the non-profit argued in the letter, addressed to Swain.

A coalition of organizations hold a rally and vigil at City Hall Park in memory of the eighteen people who died in NYC jails so far in 2022.
The nonprofit will file the request on Dec. 15 in order to “protect people in [NYC prison system’s] custody.”
Gina M Randazzo/ZUMA Press Wire

“Alarmingly, the Monitor reports that the jails are still ‘without sufficient staff to provide adequate safety and access to services.’… These failures lead not only to injury, but to death.”

A hearing on the potential takeover is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Major Adams repeated his objection to a federal takeover Monday when asked about Legal Aid’s letter.

Major Eric Adams (D) spoke at a press conference about housing reforms that will help people exit the shelter system and/or avoid it.
Major Eric Adams isn’t a fan of a federal takeover of NYC’s prison system.
Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA

“I’m a bit baffled about people who think that the federal receivership of oversight is the end all. i mean, [are] the federal prisons the poster child of good prisons?” the major said at an unrelated press conference.

Manhattan federal prosecutors — which were the first to bring up the need for a receivership — softened their stance on the takeover, noting in a court filing Monday they did not plan to join Legal Aid’s motion for one but said they’d like to reserve the right to in the future.

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