Preet Bharara announces framework of settlement over the "culture of violence" at Rikers Island [UPDATED]


U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced on Monday the framework of a settlement agreement that will bring court-ordered reforms to Rikers Island, one of the nation's worst jail systems.  The announcement followed a court filing before a U.S. magistrate judge in Manhattan.

“I have repeatedly made clear our unwavering commitment to enduring and enforceable reform at Rikers Island.  Today, we have reached a groundbreaking agreement in principle with City officials, subject to ultimate approval by the Court," U.S. Attorney Bharara, the nation's top federal prosecutor for New York's southern district, said in a statement, adding that, "This comprehensive framework requires the City to implement sweeping operational changes to fix a broken system and dismantle a decades-long culture of violence.   Its ongoing implementation will be overseen by the Court and an independent federal monitor.  Federal prosecutors will remain vigilant to ensure that the Constitution protects each and every person within the walls of Rikers Island.”    

The settlement forces New York City, in particular the New York City Department of Correction, to adopt the following requirements :

  • Development of a New Use of Force Policy
  • Robust Requirements for Reporting Use of Force
  • Complete and Timely Investigations of Use of Force Incidents
  • Increased Accountability of Correction Officers
  • Development of an Early Warning System
  • Creation of New Use of Force Auditor Position
  • Comprehensive Video Surveillance of Jails
  • Implementation of a Pilot Program for Body-Worn Cameras
  • Requirements for Use of Handheld Video Cameras
  • Enhanced Computerized Tracking Systems
  • Improved Staff Recruitment and Selection
  • Enhanced Screening of Supervisors and Special Unit Staff
  • Additional Staff Training
  • Anonymous Reporting System 
  • Notifications to the United States Attorney’s Office

The framework of the settlement was filed on Monday with U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis, IV, who is presiding over a court case that U.S. Attorney Bharara's office joined in order to effect court-supervised reforms of Rikers Island.

The pattern and instances of inmate abuse have been escalating during the de Blasio administration, and they have included the outrageous treatment received by Jerome Murdough, who was "basically baked to death" in his cell ; the suicides of Fabian Cruz and Kalief Browder, the latter whose life was irreparably harmed when he was beaten during his three year incarceration as a teenager over contested charges that Mr. Browder stole a backpack ; and revelations that approximately 40 per cent. of Rikers Island inmates require some form of psychological or mental healthcare treatment.

In response to the inadequate delivery of mental healthcare at Rikers Island, Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York) appointed in April Stanley Brezenoff, a career government insider, to oversee the municipal agency tasked with overseeing the delivery of healthcare, including mental healthcare, to inmates of the municipal jail system.  Mr. Brezenoff was blamed by the medical staff at Long Island College Hospital, or LICH, for having run LICH into the ground.  

Mr. Brezenoff's entitled and irresponsible approach to government earned him the scorn of legendary New York muckrakers, including Jack Newfield, who referred to career insiders like Mr. Brezenoff as representing the city's unaccountable "Permanent Government."  

With an independent federal monitor, identified in the court filing as Steve Martin, now set to serve as a watchdog over Rikers Island, Mr. Brezenoff, the Department of Correction, and the de Blasio administration will now have to ultimately account to U.S. Magistrate Judge Francis. 

Mr. Martin now makes the second federal monitor overseeing a critical part of New York City's law enforcement and correctional departments.  In 2013, Peter Zimroth was appointed to serve as a federal monitor of the New York Police Department following a landmark constitutional, class action case, Floyd v. City of New York, challenging the NYPD's illegal use of "stop and frisk."