Stabbings, slashings at Rikers Island, other NYC jails have risen since 2016, report says

Tribune Content Agency

NEW YORK — Violence at Rikers Island and other city Correction Department jails has eased since 2021 but is still much worse than in 2016 when a federal judge appointed a monitor to oversee the problems, a new report says.

Court-appointed violence monitor Steve J. Martin and his staff said that the jails are on pace for 350 stabbings and slashings in 2023.

That projection would be lower than the 420 stabbings reported in 2021 and 468 stabbings reported in 2022, Martin’s report noted — but still up from the number of stabbings reported in the early years of his work monitoring violence at Rikers and other city lockups.

“(The projected 350 stabbings and slashings are) more than the number of stabbings and slashings that occurred in the combined three-year period, 2017-2019, when the (Correction) Department’s population was significantly higher,” Martin’s report said.

The Legal Aid Society, one of the plaintiffs in the class action Nunez lawsuit that led to Martin’s appointment as monitor, used this week’s report as an opportunity to underscore its criticism of Mayor Eric Adams’ management of the jails.

“This administration has not only wrought horrific levels of violence in the jails, but is increasingly authoritarian in seeking to shield its abuses from judicial and public oversight,” the society said in a statement. The Legal Aid Society supports a federal takeover of the jails.

DOC Spokesman Frank Dwyer countered that the monitor admitted in an April 3 report that “real change has occurred” over the last 16 months.

“The practice and cultural changes that are being initiated have real potential to move the department toward reducing the imminent risk of harm faced by people in custody and staff,” he said.

Dwyer added that indicators such as death in custody and blade attacks have declined under Molina.

Much of the federal monitor’s report focused on the contention that in recent months, the Correction Department has been too slow to provide information and data about violence in the jails.

“The monitoring team is increasingly concerned that the department’s unwillingness and inability to collaborate effectively has also compromised the quality of the information available,” the report said.

The 81-page report released Thursday — the fifth report issued by the monitor so far this year — walks exhaustively through page after page of examples of DOC’s breakdown in cooperation over the past year.

It also focuses on alleged attempts to cover-up or delay reporting of five serious incidents, including two deaths, a case where a man was injured so severely he was paralyzed, and a case where an 86-year-old murder suspect was roughed up and ended up in intensive care.

For example, the monitor noted, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina promised to cooperate during an April 27 court hearing. But then on May 26, he was “strident and defensive” and called the monitor’s concerns “hyperbole.”

Dwyer called the report “moving the goalposts.”

“Today’s report (focuses) on data from the six-year period prior to this administration when the monitor was overseeing a department that was spiraling towards the brink of collapse,” he said.

“We remain focused on building upon the gains of the past 18 months.”

Martin’s staff proposed that Manhattan Federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain issue an order requiring the Correction Department to instruct staff to be more forthcoming with information about violent incidents, including detainee deaths. The order would also require the department to “prioritize and focus” on previous orders in the Nunez case requiring cooperation with the monitor and his staff.