A day after a federal prosecutor warned he may take legal action to force New York City to enact reforms in city jails, and amid months of heightened scrutiny of jail conditions and guard behavior, Mayor Bill de Blasio said bluntly on Tuesday that “it’s a very bad situation,” in the nation’s second-largest jail system.
“We inherited an incredibly problematic situation at Rikers Island,” the mayor said, referring to the 400-acre, 10-jail facility near LaGuardia Airport that houses the vast majority of the 11,500 daily city inmates. “One thing we’ll always do is tell you very bluntly how bad it is: It’s a very bad situation.”
De Blasio’s comments came after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara took the unusual step of issuing a statement Monday following a New York Times story that said a confidential report showed that the city omitted hundreds of inmate fights from statistics turned over to federal authorities investigating possible civil rights violations.
Bharara’s office last month issued a scathing review of conditions for adolescent inmates on Rikers, finding the jails to be extremely violent, unsafe and a place where guards routinely violate constitutional rights of teenage inmates by subjecting them to the “rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force.”
That report was released following months of news stories by The Associated Press and others detailing violent conditions and the maltreatment of mentally ill inmates on Rikers.
On Tuesday, de Blasio pledged to continue to act swiftly to remedy problems he has said were years in the making.
He pointed to the appointment of a reform-minded corrections commissioner, Joseph Ponte, and the allotment of $32.5 million in the budget to improve security and better treat mentally ill inmates, who now make up about 40 percent of the inmate population.
“I am clear and sober about the fact that this is a very thorny situation, years in the making, that we have to undo as quickly as possible,” he said.