Mayor Eric Adams’ administration is rebuffing a request from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues for data on the crisis at Rikers Island.
Last month, Ocasio-Cortez and two congressional colleagues wrote a letter asking the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to provide the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, which has been investigating city jails since 2021, information on correction officers’ use of force, overdoses, self-harm incidents, staffing absences, and disciplinary actions against staffing.
On Tuesday, committee Democrats said in a Twitter thread that the city wasn’t cooperating. They criticized the Department of Correction for an overall lack of “commitment to transparency,” and cited a Gothamist article about the department recently blocking an oversight agency from accessing video footage from Rikers. The tweets accused Correction Commissioner Louis Molina, who said in 2021 that he was "unequivocally committed to transparency and restoring public trust in this agency," of not following through on his promise.
The intraparty conflict began in December, when congressional Democrats sent a letter to Deanna Logan, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, about the “humanitarian crisis” in city jails. It criticized the Adams administration for its stewardship of Rikers: “Despite reassurances that the city is working to improve conditions at Rikers, more than a year later those improvements have not materialized.”
At the time, the congressional representatives were alarmed over an unprecedented agreement between city lawyers and Steve Martin, the federal monitor who oversees Rikers, to keep secret an upcoming report containing jails data about violence, detainee deaths, security lapses, staffing supervision problems, and the smuggling of contraband. The committee criticized Martin for seeking to keep the information quiet, and cast doubt on his assertion that its release would lead to misinterpretation.
So the Democrats asked the city to provide the committee with information on officer use of force, overdoses, self-harm incidents, staffing absences, and disciplinary actions for 2022, which saw the highest detainee death rate in 25 years.
The representatives — Ocasio-Cortez, Jamie Raskin and Carolyn Maloney (who has since left office) — sought that information by Jan. 6. An extension was requested until Jan. 13, according to Ocasio-Cortez’s spokesperson, but that day came and went without a response.
The December letter also highlighted a Gothamist investigation that found that violence at Rikers has increased since Martin’s federal monitoring team was installed seven years ago at a cost, so far, of more than $18 million to city taxpayers.
As part of its ongoing investigation, the House committee has said it has so far met with the mayor’s office, the Department of Correction, the city’s five district attorney offices, and advocates.
Requests for comment from the Department of Correction and Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice were not returned.