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Rikers Island still not in compliance with several court orders, federal monitor reports

Federal monitor wants NYC held in contempt over Rikers Island
Federal monitor wants NYC held in contempt over Rikers Island 03:05

NEW YORK -- There are more legal troubles Tuesday for the Adams administration as it struggles to reduce violence on Rikers Island

A federal monitor says reforms have "stagnated" and the city should be held in contempt. 

To be fair, Mayor Eric Adams inherited a nightmare when he took over the Rikers Island jail complex from Bill de Blasio. But after 18 months in office, the federal monitor is losing patience with the pace of reforms and the efforts to stop violence and the excessive use of force. 

"The monitor is correct in saying enough is enough," Mary Lynne Werlwas said. 

Werlwas, director of Legal Aid Prisoners' Rights Project, reacted to the latest hard-hitting report by the federal monitor, evaluating things like staff misconduct and excessive use of force, the monitor found. 

"Many of the initiatives... remain incomplete or have not been addressed," the federal monitor wrote. "There has been a disturbing level of regression in a number of essential practices. 

Among the findings: Doors not properly secured, correction officers abandoning posts, officers missing weapons during routine searches. 

"Whatever efforts that have been made have failed, because the conditions on Rikers Island are worse now," Werlwas said. "More people are being hurt. Force is more injurious, and the mismanagement that pervades the department is even more prejudicial to justice."

"We take our obligation to keep people in our charge very seriously and remain committed to continued reform and working with the monitor," a spokesperson for Adams said. 

"What we inherited in 2022 was a mess, and we're turning that mess around," Adams said in June. 

Adams defended his stewardship of Rikers when CBS2's Marcia Kramer interviewed him and Correction Commissioner Louis Molina in June. It followed another scathing report on violence there. 

"Why have you decided to call us here today and show us these lengthy videos of the same incidents that were in this report," Kramer asked at the time. 

"We wanted to show that we have to hide," Molina said. "We think that these incidents not only portray the level of restraint and empathy... . We think they show a level of environmental improvement, cleanliness of our facilities." 

Since he took office, Molina has reduced use of force incidents by 14%, according to the DOC, and has cut officer absentee rates from a high of about 2,600 per day at the height of the pandemic to 71, as of June 7. 

"The numbers are showing how we're moving in the right direction. We had previous administrations that were doing just the opposite," Adams said. 

"It's clear, however, that it's not enough, that the brutality and the harm being suffered... is worse now," Werlwas said. 

The federal monitor doesn't agree with Adams, and has asked the federal judge to hold the city in contempt to force faster progress. The mayor's spokesperson said the city should not be held in contempt. 

Legal Aid has also asked the judge to appoint an outside receiver to run the jails. 

Federal monitor releases hard-hitting report on Rikers Island jail complex 02:08

The report comes less than a month after a federal judge said she would consider placing the jail in receivership, which would end the city's control over the jail.  

"I do think, when you look as a whole at these facilities, which not only are rife with abuse and violence but also are just crumbling around people and which reflect a lack of priorities to fix what can be fixed, that the appointment of a federal monitor could only improve those conditions," said Legal Aid Society attorney Veronica Vela.

Vela told CBS New York last week about the dangerous health and safety conditions at the complex, adding the pace in making changes is almost nonexistent. 

"I would tell the mayor that these are New Yorkers living in these conditions and that as long as we are going to continue to jail the number that we continue to jail, we need to make sure that they are safe," she said.

Advocates for inmates at Rikers say 19 people died last year -- the highest number in a quarter of a century.

The judge's decision on the matter could come as soon as August.

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