New York City Comptroller Brad Lander reiterated his call to remove the troubled Rikers Island jail complex from the city’s control on Friday, making him the highest-ranking city official to call for it to be placed under federal receivership.
In an interview on WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show,” Lander made his case for the federal government’s appointment of a receiver a day after publicly calling for Rikers’ transition out of city control during a Columbia Law School forum.
The conditions at Rikers have been subject to long-standing scrutiny that has only intensified with recent deaths in the complex — as well as reporting by Gothamist showing images of detainees living in squalor that critics quickly decried as dangerous and inhumane.
“It has just grown to a full-scale humanitarian emergency,” Lander told Lehrer. “A receiver cannot solve all the problems but some of the key things that are happening, a receiver could really make a difference.”
He said greater federal oversight could help with a host of issues related to current procedures and rules, particularly with staffing — including assignments to certain posts and what Lander described as unwarranted uses of sick leave.
“Mostly what it is,” Lander said, “is that a receiver is released from some of the existing barriers and rules that can cut through that red tape.”
Lander’s comments put him at odds with Mayor Eric Adams, who has resisted calls for the city to be stripped of control over Rikers and is in a legal battle, alongside local corrections leadership, to keep it from falling into federal receivership.
“I have come to the conclusion that to address the short-term crisis — which is rooted largely in deeply entrenched mismanagement of staff and union leadership recalcitrance — a receiver should be appointed,” Lander said on Thursday during the Columbia Law School forum.
In a statement, Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina said the jail system has made progress under Adams and that he and the mayor, "have been working diligently to turn this agency around."
He added, "Many of those leading the call for receivership do not understand the amount of support and commitment to this work that’s needed to turn our jails around.”
A federal monitor has been overseeing the city’s plan to reform Rikers since 2015.
A judge who has previously acknowledged the deadly conditions at Rikers approved the city’s reform plan for the complex in June, but the dispute over control remains ongoing. The next scheduled court date in the case is in November.
Under the previous administration, then-Mayor Bill de Blasio had pledged to close Rikers by 2026, though that was later delayed to 2027. Four new jails are planned for all boroughs except Staten Island. Lander and others have expressed skepticism that the city is on track to meet that goal by its current deadline.
“We're not on the path … to have only 3,300 people in custody on a daily basis. And we are not on path to build the four new borough-based jails in time by 2027,” Lander said. “And partly, that is because of community resistance.”
This story has been updated with comment from the DOC.