NYC Public Advocate Introduces Bills To Reform City Jails, Resolution Calling For Rikers Receivership

June 8th, 2023

Press Release

New York City Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams today introduced a slate of legislation aimed at changing systems in city jails, including a resolution formally calling for the President to place the Department of Correction under federal receivership. He first called for receivership following the federal monitor’s report last month.

“It is clear that after over a year of purported reforms, the city has shown itself to be unable to meet the needs of those under its custody, care, and control at this time. The issues on Rikers are longstanding, and predate this administration, but despite any efforts by the city, patterns of abuse, neglect, secrecy and misinformation have continued,” said Public Advocate Williams in introducing the resolution.

“If the administration could show me a more swift, effective, fully functioning plan than is currently in place, that would be welcome – but we can’t wait to see if conditions worsen and harm compounds,” Public Advocate Williams continued. “I do not take this step lightly, and know that receivership comes with its own challenges -- at the same time, we need rapid reform. Right now, I urge my colleagues on the Council to support this resolution and call for intervention to protect people on both sides of the bars.”

The receivership resolution details the recent history of the crisis on Rikers and the push for receivership in the courts, and argues that “Federal receivership is a designation that would give sweeping powers to an independent authority tasked with finally ending violence on Rikers Island as it has helped remedy entrenched problems at other lockups nationwide.”

In light of the court’s current position that the Department of Correction’s action plan is sufficient and the reality that “only a non-partisan receiver appointed by the Federal Court can suspend laws, regulations, and contracts, including a collective bargaining agreement, that interfere with the implementation of the consent decree, and in correcting the things that the court determined are in need of correction,” the resolution calls on “the President of the United States to immediately place New York City jails in federal receivership.”

After his inspection of Rikers alongside Comptroller Brad Lander yesterday, the Public Advocate repeated his assessment that, at this time, receivership is the best available path to most quickly address the myriad of changes needed and challenges faced at Rikers Island. In addition to the dangerous conditions for people on both sides of the bars, he cited the Department of Correction’s resistance to transparency about deaths and harm in city jails, efforts by the department to reduce or impede oversight, and budget cuts to restorative programming.

He further noted transition to receivership “must be guided by people currently and locally involved in reform and oversight work, rather than those committed to a failing status quo. And must not be up to solely one person."

Public Advocate Williams also introduced legislation today to protect the rights of detainees on Rikers Island.

First, with Council Member Keith Powers, he introduced Intro 1093, a bill to require the city to report on voter registration in city jails, alongside a companion resolution calling for state action to help ensure this right and facilitate registration and voting among incarcerated people.

Second, the Public Advocate introduced a bill with Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, Intro 1092, to provide opportunity and access for eligible incarcerated people to apply for and obtain IDNYC cards while detained, an important access point for other services and resources.

As the Public Advocate has maintained, systemic change at Rikers must include passage of legislation that will improve services, culture, and safety for all on the island. It must also include a commitment to decarcerate and follow through on the legally and morally mandated timeline to close Rikers for good.

Watch the Public Advocate and Comptroller speak following their inspection of Rikers here, and read the Public Advocate’s initial call for federal receivership in the wake of the monitor’s report here.

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