NYC correction officers union claims federal takeover at Rikers will lead to ‘chaos’

The city correction officers union said a takeover of New York City jails by a federal appointee would worsen conditions at the facilities, according to court papers filed this week.

The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association is opposing efforts by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams and public defenders from the nonprofit Legal Aid Society to have a judge appoint an official, known as a federal receiver, to take control of the city’s jail system.

“Ordering a receiver to displace [Correction Commissioner Lynne Maginley-Liddie] will not lead to positive reform, it will lead to chaos,” attorneys for the union wrote in a legal filing.

The union said a federal receiver has never run a facility as large as the city‘s jails, which currently hold about 6,000 people.

“A federal receiver as envisioned by the plaintiffs will turn the clock back three or four years, and will not address or solve the issues facing all correctional institutions on both a state and federal level concerning staffing, recruitment and retention, and funding,” wrote the union’s attorneys.

“The voices of those women and men who work at the Rikers Island jail facilities have yet to be directly heard,” they added. “The perception that COBA, the longest-tenured stakeholder on Rikers Island, is an impediment to meaningful reform rather than a wealth of positive solutions, is a fallacy perpetuated” by the Legal Aid Society and the U.S. attorney’s office.

Correction officers have the “greatest institutional knowledge of all stakeholders on Rikers Island,” and therefore “should be included in the solution,” the attorneys argued.

Then, using an exclamation point that is unusual in court papers, the filing stated: “Such an allegation defies common sense, no one wants to live or work in a harmful and threatening environment!”

Mayor Eric Adams, who stands to lose power over one of the city’s largest functions if a receiver is appointed, also opposes the plaintiffs‘ motion. The next court hearing on the matter is scheduled for May.

Much of the impetus for a receiver stems from a federal monitor’s conclusions that absenteeism and understaffing at the jails have contributed to skyrocketing violence over the years. That federal monitor was installed in 2016. Experts said that the union could lose certain work protections under a receivership, such as unlimited sick time for members, and could also face a staff restructuring that puts officers in undesirable posts.

In Cook County, Illinois, a federal receiver appointed to take over a juvenile detention center was empowered to make decisions that affected union members’ benefits, according to an analysis in criminal justice journal Vital City by Hernandez Stroud, an expert on receiverships.

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