NYC cites improvements in jail system in brief opposing outside takeover

NEW YORK — New York City filed its expected opposition to an outside takeover of the jails Tuesday, arguing that there has been improvement in the past several months in an array of areas, including security, staffing, programs and prevention of suicide.

In the brief filed in federal court in Manhattan, the city relies heavily on the fact a new Correction Commissioner, Lynelle Maginley-Liddie, has received positive early reviews from the federal monitor tracking violence and uses of force in the jails.

“A receiver is an extraordinary remedy to be imposed only when no lesser alternatives are adequate to the task. As the record shows, that is not the current situation in DOC facilities,” says the 48-page motion which includes 447 pages of attachments.

Mayor Eric Adams named Maginley-Liddie Dec. 8 to succeed Louis Molina, who had clashed repeatedly in 2023 over transparency and accuracy of statistics.

“She is committed to reform,” the city’s brief says, citing a Feb. 26 statement by the monitor that noted an “immediate change in the department’s approach.”

“We recognize, of course, that much work remains to be done to bring DOC up to the standard that we all want. Violence is still high. But jails and prisons across the country are struggling to provide safe and humane conditions for those in their care,” the city’s brief continues.

The city’s filing comes in response to a Legal Aid Society filing in November which urged Judge Laura Taylor Swain to appoint an outside official to run the system. Such an official — a lawyer, a former judge, a corrections expert — would have broad powers to change policies and practices in the hopes of improving the system.

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District filed a letter also backing a receiver which argued “every safety and violence indicator” is worse than it was in 2016.

“We are reviewing the city’s submission, but nothing in these papers changes this reality: our clients in the jails continue to suffer and the city continues to fail them,” said Legal Aid spokesman Redmond Haskins. “The Constitution demands more, and a receiver remains necessary to reform this dysfunctional system.”

The filings were made in Nunez vs. the City of New York, a 2011 class action lawsuit that led to the landmark 2015 settlement with the Justice Department that created the monitor. Swain is presiding over the case.

In her affidavit, Maginley-Liddie argues that an increase in jail violence despite a smaller population compared to eight years ago is a result of a change in the makeup of detainees — 62% are being held for violent or weapons crimes, compared to 44% in 2016.

“Gone in 2024 are recidivist shoplifters, low level drug dealers and fraudsters, who populated Rikers jails in earlier years,” Maginley-Liddie writes.

She also cites the fact that jail stays are much longer — an average of 101 days compared to 59 days in 2016. More than 500 of the 6,100 detainees in the system have been there for two years or more, the motion states.