The NYC Legal Aid Society asks the FBI to take over the city’s ailing prisons

New York City’s largest nonprofit legal aid organization is ramping up efforts for a federal takeover of the Big Apple’s ailing prison system — as violence by law enforcement officers hit the highest level since 2016.

The Legal Aid Society plans to formally ask Manhattan federal judge Laura Swain on December 15 to order receivership for Rikers Island and other entities of the city’s Justice Department, arguing that a recent surveillance report made it clear that the FBI had to intervene.

The report, released late last month, found the rate of violence this year was more than double what it was six years ago — 10.24 per 100 inmates, up from 3.96 in 2016 — when the city announced one Consent Decree Approved Reduction of Excessive Force by Officials.

“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 remedies that followed it,” says Kayla Simpson, attorney for the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society With.

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

“Violence in the city jails is worse today than when the trial began because the city has persistently failed to comply with court orders and protect those in its care. We can not wait anymore.”

The letter, filed in federal court on Monday, said the nonprofit will file its request for an outside agency to operate the city’s jails on Dec. 15, the earliest date attorneys previously agreed that this could be submitted.

“[T]The monitor cited the prevalence of “avoidable, unnecessary and excessive use of force” and the staggering number of incidents of use of force that occur when employees fail to comply with basic duties such as locking cell doors or properly applying handcuffs,” the nonprofit argued in the letter addressed to Swain.

A coalition of organizations is holding a rally and vigil in City Hall Park to commemorate the eighteen people who have died in NYC prisons so far in 2022.
The nonprofit will submit the application on Dec. 15 to “protect people in [NYC prison system’s] Custody.”
Gina M Randazzo/ZUMA Press Wire

“Alarmingly, the Monitor reports that prisons are still ‘understaffed to provide adequate security and access to services’…These failures not only result in injuries, but also in death.”

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

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

Mayor Eric Adams (D) speaks at a news conference on housing reforms that will help people exit and/or avoid the protection system.
Mayor Eric Adams isn’t a fan of a federal takeover of the NYC prison system.
Photo by Michael Brochstein/SOPA

“I’m a bit baffled by people who think the state regulator is the end of it all. I mean, [are] federal prisons the poster child of good prisons?” the mayor said at an independent news conference.

Manhattan prosecutors — who were the first to raise the need for receivership — softened their stance on the takeover, noting in a court filing Monday that they do not intend to join Legal Aid’s request for one, but said that they want to take over the right to the future. The NYC Legal Aid Society asks the FBI to take over the city’s ailing prisons


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