Why the Mayor Could Lose Control of Rikers Island

Good morning. It’s Thursday. We’ll look at the possibility of a federal takeover of the troubled Rikers Island jail complex. We’ll also get details on transit fare increases that will take effect within a month.

Credit…Seth Wenig/Associated Press

On Monday, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan said New York City’s jails should be taken over by an outside authority. Then the judge who will decide whether that should happen questioned whether the city and its Department of Correction “are capable of safe and proper management of the jails.” That pointed to the possibility of a takeover, something I discussed with my colleague Jonah E. Bromwich, who covers criminal justice in New York.

What would a federal takeover of Rikers mean? Would the correction officers who work there now still work there?

We don’t really know the specifics of what a federal takeover might look like, outside of some basics. The process of a takeover is called receivership — an outside authority, known as a receiver, is appointed by a judge to take over a facility. In United States jails and prisons, this has happened a dozen times.

With Rikers, one of the notable wrinkles is that the jail complex is set to close in 2027. So if the takeover happens — which is not a sure thing by any means — it will be interesting to see how that end date affects the mandate of the receiver.

A receiver would be likely to have power over personnel at city jails, most of whom are on Rikers. It’s not clear how he or she might use that authority.

You wrote that the U.S. attorney in Manhattan joined lawyers for those confined at Rikers, saying that “we cannot wait any longer” for the city to fix the crisis there. But the federal monitor overseeing conditions said in April that there had been some progress, but there was “also continued cause for alarm.” That was three months ago. Why the urgency now?

This is a good question, and I think it has a lot of people who follow the situation in the city’s jails scratching their heads. The current crisis in the jails, which has led to the deaths of more than 40 people, began in 2020 and arguably reached its height the following year.

But the federal monitor who oversees the jails has become frustrated in recent months, not only by the continuing violence and negligence toward those in custody but also by what he’s characterized as a lack of transparency from the leadership of the Department of Correction, including its commissioner, Louis Molina.

The monitor, Steve J. Martin, has said that Molina and his staff are not reporting incidents in a timely manner and that it can seem as if they’re covering them up. He even went to the judge to whom he reports to get an order clarifying that he needed to receive certain information as soon as possible.

His feeling that the city has acted in bad faith and that things are still awful for those at Rikers — both detainees and jails staff — seems to have prompted the U.S. attorney, Damian Williams, to act.

Does a takeover appear likely? The judge said at a hearing last month that her faith in the city’s leadership had eroded. Is “faith” another word for “patience”?

A takeover is ultimately up to the judge, Laura Taylor Swain.

She does appear to have lost patience with the city, and her language has become far more severe. In a hearing last month and then again this week, she rebuked city leadership. That was a bad sign for Mayor Adams, and to me, it suggested that a takeover was more likely than I’d ever before thought.

Earlier this month the federal monitor stopped short of urging a takeover but said the city should be held in contempt for not doing enough to address the problems at Rikers. How would a contempt citation affect conditions there?

What could play out is a process in which lawyers for detainees and the U.S. attorney’s office ask the judge to hold the city in contempt.

If Judge Swain does, there are a number of remedies she can spell out to bring it into compliance with her orders, which are supposed to ensure that no one comes to harm in the city’s jails. She could fine the city, for example.

And even receivership — what we’re calling a takeover — need not be total. It could give an outside authority partial control, or control over only some aspects of the Correction Department. But I’d expect the lawyers calling for a takeover to ask that the outside authority be endowed with a fair amount of power, given how deep and complex the problems are.

What has the mayor said about having to give up control of Rikers? And, if the judge put Rikers under federal control, how would that tarnish Adams’s record? He’s only been in office since January of last year. The problems at Rikers go back much farther than that.

The mayor is clearly very frustrated by this turn of affairs. He’s pointed out many times that the problems at Rikers go back generations. He’s said that given his record and background, and the personal interest he’s taken in the jails, he’s the best person to fix the situation.

The issue for him is the one I brought up earlier: transparency and the monitor’s perception that the Adams administration is acting in bad faith. Martin, the monitor, has even said that he could no longer trust that the city was telling the truth about how many people had died in custody.

The monitor is an agent of the court. When Molina, the commissioner, stopped handing over information in a timely manner, that was like denying the information to the judge.

What would a takeover mean for Adams’s record? Ultimately that’s for voters to decide, in 2025. He has portrayed himself as the get-stuff-done mayor, and it would be clear that this was a situation that he was unable to handle.


It’s a mostly sunny day near the mid-80s. Late tonight, prepare for a chance of showers and thunderstorms. Temps will drop to around the mid-70s.


In effect until Aug. 15 (Feast of the Assumption).

Prepare to pay more for a subway ride

Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

The price of a subway ride is going up for the first time in years. The base fare will jump to $2.90, from $2.75, by Aug. 20.

As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board approved the new fare, the agency’s chairman, Janno Lieber, characterized it as a return to every-other-year fare hikes to keep up with inflation. The increase is slightly more than double the 2.5 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index in the New York area from June 2022 through last month.

But Lieber also said the increase was essential. “For everybody who depends on this transit system — like I always say, mass transit is like air and water for New Yorkers — we need it,” Lieber said.

His agency had been facing a budget gap of nearly $3 billion by 2025, but a bailout from Gov. Kathy Hochul and the State Legislature helped bolster the M.T.A.’s finances, though not enough to avoid an increase. The M.T.A. is also looking to introduce a congestion pricing program that will bring in billions of dollars from drivers who head into the densest and busiest parts of Manhattan. The money would go for transit infrastructure enhancements, not operating expenses.

Subway riders are not the only ones who will be paying more. The board also approved raising tolls on the authority’s bridges and tunnels by 6 percent for drivers with E-ZPasses. Monthly passes on the Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Railroad will go up by as much as 4.5 percent.

The latest New York news

Credit…John Tully for The New York Times
  • Trump criminal case: A judge denied former President Donald J. Trump’s request to move the Manhattan criminal case against him from state to federal court.

  • Other Gilgo Beach victims: The authorities continue to investigate whether eight other corpses found near Gilgo Beach are linked to Rex Heuermann, who has been charged in three killings.

  • From the Adirondacks to the city: The British endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh plans to swim all 315 miles of the Hudson River.


Anti-comfort zone

Dear Diary:

Like the sun in the evening sunk into its pillow
The main shadow is too big to see, the one in
Your head. I know because it sullies my view
Of the sky. I’ve loved looking up since childhood
Ever since Coney Island, the first time I saw the
Horizon. I could swear the moon was following
Me. It wasn’t until much later in life that I saw
Geese fly by like stacked bowling pins. Ever notice?
Everything is true for a second and then it’s not.
Am I the thing behind the universe? If me, then
Everyone. It actually takes a lot of discipline to
Be flexible. See how enjoyment feels bigger
When it bides discomfort. Animates every little
Thing, one honk after another, sometimes together.

— Lila Dlaboha

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.

Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.

Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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