]udge urges correction department to reform faster
For the first time in six months, the Department of Correction and its commissioner Louis Molina were back in court — defending the leadership of Rikers Island.
It’s part of an years long court case that’s supposed to help reform the troubled jail complex.
Advocates, activists and attorneys for those representing detainees on Rikers have all called for more. They want the independent leadership, potentially allowing the federal government to step in and take over.
On Thursday, the judge in the case kept everything status quo. The city can continue to try to implement reforms on its own, but she urged it to step up the pace.
The commissioner was in the courtroom, but did not take questions when leaving lower Manhattan.
Inside the courtroom, attorneys for Rikers detainees and federal prosecutors raised serious concerns about the pace of change so far, highlighting stabbings and slashings and use of force are all much higher than when the court case started.
“The current administration is committed to action-oriented reform. The Department of Correction is far from perfect. But our staff care,” Molina said.
In recent reports, the Rikers federal monitor has called out the department’s emergency services unit for excessive violence and brutality.
It has also called out the department’s investigations division, which is responsible for investigating misconduct, for mishandled and deteriorating quality in use of force investigations. A month ago, the deputy commissioner overseeing that department resigned.
“The individual that the commissioner hired, deputy commissioner Hernandez, he essentially buried or did not substantiate many, many investigations into excessive uses of force,” Sarena Townsend said, who oversaw investigations on Rikers during the de Blasio administration.
She was fired by Molina when he took over in 2022. She was in the courtroom watching on Thursday.
“The individual that the commissioner hired, deputy commissioner Hernandez, he essentially buried or did not substantiate many, many investigations into excessive uses of force,” Townsend said. “This was discovered by the federal monitor There were cases that were so egregious that people should not only have been disciplined on it, but suspended.”