Oh, the Irony


Should the feds take over Riker’s Island?

Oh, the Irony

Last week a federal judge refused to send a convicted felon to jail.  The perp, Gustavo Chavez, pled guilty to distributing fentanyl and was supposed to be sent to the Federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to be incarcerated until his sentencing date.  Instead Judge Jesse Furman released him on bail.  

Was there some miscarriage of justice, some oversight in due process that caused this decision? Nope. Judge Furman believed that the conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center were too inhumane to send Mr. Chavez there.  He said that the chronic understaffing, filthy conditions, and lack of medical and mental health treatment made the facility untenable.  The Judge also pointed out that the improper guard staffing leads to near constant lockdowns, which are tantamount to solitary confinement.  The facility staffing is hovering at about 55% of its normal complement. 

It should be noted that the Federal Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan was closed two years ago due to similar problems.  This was the facility where Jeffrey Epstein died.  The jail was a mess and similar staffing problems allegedly played a role in Mr. Epstein’s death. 


All this sounds like a pretty easy fix, but the feds can’t seem to straighten things out in their jails.  Which makes us wonder why they are so interested in taking over the New York City Department of Corrections’ Riker’s Island. 


The federal government formally requested that the Adams administration hand over control of the troubled Riker’s jail to a federally appointed receivership in November of 2023.  They cited the lack of improvement in conditions, the level of violence (despite a 50% reduction in deaths in custody last year), and the lack of proper staffing as reasons to send Riker’s into a federal takeover. 

The NYC Dept of Corrections has been part of a federal consent decree (these things never seem to end) under the supervision of Federal Monitor Steve Martin since 2015.  Martin feels that the city is incapable or unwilling to effectively reform and manage its jail.  It should be noted that Martin would be the likely candidate to be appointed the receiver  (don’t want to lose that no-show job).

 NYC Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks feels that Rikers would be worse under federal receivership than under the city’s control. “Show me a receivership. Point to one receivership – Mississippi, Alabama. Chicago – where a receivership came in and did a better job than that particular city,”  Judging from the federal government’s track record in running New York City prisons, it is hard to argue with that assertion. 

Perhaps Judge Furman can sit down with the Federal Monitor, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the NYC Department of Corrections and get some progress made.  At this point it doesn’t seem like the feds have any standing to be telling others how to run a prison.  Doctor, heal thyself.


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