'Shaken' Judge Opens Door To Federal Control Of Rikers Island

NEW YORK CITY — A judge found herself so “shaken” by how New York City jail officials handled recent violence behind bars that she ordered steps that could end with a federal takeover of Rikers Island.

Manhattan federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain told lawyers Tuesday to discuss — but not quite make — motions over whether a federal receiver should take over the city’s jails.

Such a step would be “extraordinary,” Swain acknowledged.

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But she argued that incidents in the past few weeks — as detailed in scathing filings by federal monitor Steve J. Martin, which effectively accused jail officials of hiding information about violence and deaths — have left her “shaken.”

“And by the way the leadership has approached seeking to shape public opinion and public perception of these very serious issues that have been raised by the monitor,” she added, apparently referring to jail officials’ controversial recent interviews with “cherry-picked” reporters.

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Advocates quickly seized on the judge’s seeming newfound openness to an effective federal takeover of Rikers, an action that many have called for over the course of years.

A federal monitor — Martin — is already acting as a court-appointed watchdog after a 2015 court case that mandated improvements to conditions in the city’s jails.

But that court case’s plaintiff attorney — Mary Lynne Werlwas, who is also with The Legal Aid Society — said Tuesday that she’ll push for a more-stringent step: a receiver.

“Between rampant excessive force, an astonishing number of deaths and serious injuries, and the Department’s untruthfulness and efforts to shield its incompetence from outside eyes, only an independent entity such as a receiver can deliver on what the City was unable to accomplish,” she said in a statement.

Mayor Eric Adams, during a Tuesday news conference, continued to defend Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina.

He maintained conditions have improved at Rikers and pushed back against the idea of a federal takeover.

“People think years of dysfunctionality is going to be fixed because of the receiver: that’s just not making sense to me,” he said.

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