A Report on Violence at Rikers Is to Be Kept Secret
A report tracking violence at the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City will be hidden from the public, preventing people from viewing documents with statistics about assaults on staff, and incidents involving force against detainees, a federal judge has ordered.
The judge, Laura T. Swain of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who is in charge of the case challenging the city’s administration of its dysfunctional jail complex in the East River, filed the order on Monday evening.
The order will allow New York City’s Correction Department to submit a one-time confidential report analyzing jail data by Feb. 13. Such statistics include the number of weapons recovered, uniformed staffers who are out on sick leave, force-related disciplinary cases and serious injuries to both incarcerated people and correction officers.
Steve J. Martin, an independent court-appointed monitor assigned to draw up reports on the jails, asked in a Nov. 14 letter to Judge Swain that the report remain under wraps.
Doing so “allows the monitoring team the opportunity to analyze data produced by the department to provide appropriate context in order to avoid the misinterpretation or the dissemination of incomplete or confusing information,” he said.
Judge Swain’s decision comes after a court hearing on Thursday on the state of the city jails. So far this year, 18 people have died in the jails, or soon after their release.
At the hearing, Judge Swain put off the request of lawyers for the detainees that she appoint a receiver — an outsider who would oversee the jails. Instead, Judge Swain granted the Correction Department more time to develop its plan to reform Rikers.
She set a new hearing for April 27 to discuss the status of the jails, and said in her order that she would listen to more legal arguments “on whether alternative or additional remedial relief is warranted.”
In a statement, the Legal Aid Society, one of the groups that represents detainees, said its lawyers were disappointed with the court’s ruling but “appreciate the court’s demand of the city for swift and serious action.”
Louis A. Molina, the Correction Department commissioner, was ordered by Judge Swain to come up with a plan by the end of May to address the deepening staffing crisis and the high levels of violence. After viewing the plan, the judge gave the city more time to revise it.
She made a similar ruling on Thursday, allowing the agency still more time to implement reforms.
“We have so much more work to do, but we are confident that a receivership would be counterproductive to the many positive changes that are already underway,” Mr. Molina said in a statement after Thursday’s hearing.
A spokesman for the Law Department, which represents the city in court matters, said the agency agrees with the position of Mr. Martin, the monitor, and that “providing raw data without the appropriate context would not represent a comprehensive assessment of the city’s progress.”
“The monitor will also release a public report with full context and analysis in accordance with their reporting schedule,” said the spokesman, Nick Paolucci.
The jails fell under federal oversight in 2015 after a class-action lawsuit against the Correction Department regarding the frequent use of excessive force. The lawsuit resulted in a consent judgment, and Mr. Martin was appointed to issue his periodic reports on violence within the facilities.
Mr. Martin issued a report in October saying that “successful reform will require an all-encompassing cultural and behavioral change among thousands of staff for whom poor practice has been embedded and normalized for decades.”