In an announcement at Brooklyn Borough Hall Thursday, Mayor-elect Eric Adams gave remarks about the 14th onsite death to happen at Rikers Island jails this year, and appointed ex-NYPD detective Louis Molina to head the Department of Corrections.
During his remarks, ex-cop Adams called Rikers a “national embarrassment.” The many in-custody deaths this year have put a harsh spotlight on the conditions of the jails, and after many lawmakers witnessed the struggle of the inmates in person, calls for change abounded. Mayor Bill de Blasio was then criticized for not taking more action to ensure inmate safety.
“There’s a lot of blame to go around, and I’m aware of that blame,” Adams said. “It has become clear that our entire criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform.”
In charge of that reform is Molina, the first Latino to hold the DOC’s lead role, according to Adams’ team. Molina is a former NYPD detective, who more recently went to work in Las Vegas as the head of public safety. He and Adams answered a few questions that let the public in on their plans to reform the jails.
Adams put his foot down on solitary confinement, stating that inmates should “enjoy the reprieve” until Jan. 1. He refused to use the term solitary, and rather supports punitive segregation that keeps violent inmates away from the general population and corrections officers. “You can have segregation without it being inhumane. We’re not talking about going to the days of being in a hole. We’re not talking about locking someone into a small cell without allowing them out,” Adams said.
“The man announced December 31. He’s going to empty out punitive segregation. They might enjoy that one day reprieve, because January 1, they hey are going back into segregation, if they committed a violent act,” he added.
Molina was questioned on how long it would take to reform the condition that some of those inmates are in, which he said were ignored for too long, as well as the staffing shortages that occurred earlier this year.
“They’re complex problems, and we’ve done too many quick, fly-by-night solutions to get things done. And that’s not how I’m going to operate,” Molina said.
One of those “fly-by-night” solutions was de Blasio’s suspension of corrections officers who were reportedly abusing sick leave because of the conditions in September. At the time, the Correction Officers Benevolent Association issued a statement saying, “Forcing sick and injured officers back to work won’t fix the urgent staffing crisis on Rikers. Most officers aren’t dealing with food poisoning. Many are recovering from broken bones, stab wounds, or worse.”
Molina said he won’t have an immediate solution for this debate until he completes his assessment of the situation.
“I have full faith in the staff that’s on Rikers that they have the skill and the capability to solve this problem,” he told reporters. “We’re not going to come up with the solution at this moment on but it’s going to be after thorough assessment up and down.”