A federal judge approved the city’s plan to make long-sought changes on Rikers Island, essentially eliminating the threat of a federal takeover for at least the next several months. The order filed Tuesday marks a win for the city and the Department of Correction and comes days after the federal monitor in the case expressed doubt about the city’s willingness to follow its recommendations for the proposed action plan.
“This action plan represents a way to move forward with concrete measures now to address the ongoing crisis at Rikers Island,” Southern District Judge Laura Taylor Swain wrote in the order, while making clear that the case could turn depending on the city’s progress in implementing the plan. “The Court has approved the proposed measures contained within the action plan, in full recognition that further remedial relief may be necessary should Defendants not fulfill their commitments and demonstrate their ability to make urgently needed changes.”
The city filed the proposed action plan in late May after federal monitors appointed to oversee the department threatened to take control of the system if the city failed to comply with their recommendations. The jail system has been under federal supervision since a class action lawsuit in 2015 alleged rampant abuse and dysfunction.
The plan filed in May outlines timelines for proposed reforms, which include tamping down on abuse of sick leave policies among correction officers, hiring new leadership under a modified chain of command, improving infrastructure at the jail facilities and expediting correction officer disciplinary proceedings.
The department submitted an updated version of the plan on Friday after Swain gave it two weeks to come up with a more detailed proposal. During that time, a dispute over the hiring of wardens outside of the department became a point of contention between the monitors, along with the Legal Aid Society, which represents the jail population in the case, and the department. The monitors wrote in a letter to Swain on Friday that the city refused to agree to their recommendation to hire wardens outside of the department, and was unwilling to seek special permission from the court to circumvent city and state laws prohibiting it from doing so.
Swain indicated that the department has committed to seeking special permission from the court if it encounters other legal barriers that prohibit it from implementing recommendations. She also denied Legal Aid’s request to set a briefing schedule for a possible contempt motion to trigger the federal takeover.