Can New York City Handle the Crisis at Rikers Island?


Their request — which could lead to further congressional action, including an investigation — follows a letter released last week in which more than a dozen New York Democrats called on Mr. Biden to intervene at Rikers, and asked the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into the conditions there. The White House on Monday did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.

In recent weeks, a steady stream of state and local officials have toured Rikers and commented afterward on the dire conditions there. After a visit last week, New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, said in a statement that she was “examining all of my office’s legal options to immediately address this dire situation.”

City officials have insisted that they have the capacity to solve the issues plaguing Rikers, where the city oversees eight different facilities. At a City Council hearing this month, Mr. Schiraldi and Dean Fuleihan, the city’s first deputy mayor, said that they would not need outside help.

“I strongly believe that the City of New York can fix this,” Mr. Schiraldi said.

Asked if the city and the Department of Correction could do so safely, Mr. Fuleihan said yes, adding that the city was moving quickly to address issues with staffing and safety and that it did not need federal assistance.

“We can manage this,” he said. “Not easy, but we actually can do it.”

But the letters from members of Congress, as well as a court hearing last week during which lawyers for a civil rights group asked a federal judge to intervene, suggested that those concerned about conditions at the jail complex were increasingly looking toward other parties to help.

The crisis has heightened in the final months of Mr. de Blasio’s tenure and as the city gears up for the general election to replace him, which will take place on Nov. 2.

Mr. de Blasio’s likely successor, the Democratic candidate Eric Adams, visited the island earlier this month. Afterward, Mr. Adams, who supports closing Rikers but has objected to the locations chosen for new jail sites, released a plan that included efforts to build out facilities for incarcerated people with mental health or substance abuse issues, and to direct more funding to the prosecutor’s office located on the island.



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