New York Daily News
• Blaz: Don’t blame me, I’ve been trying to close Rikers Is. • 20 jail officers suspended for not coming to work
Mayor de Blasio and top administration officials attempted to shift focus on the crisis at Rikers Island to Gov. Hochul and the state court system Wednesday and urged the new governor to sign into law a bill that would reduce the types of parole violations people are incarcerated for.
The Less Is More Act, which was floated by Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin when he was a state senator, has been approved by both the Senate and the Assembly, and according to de Blasio, all it needs now is Hochul’s signature.
“I want to see the Less Is More Act signed and implemented immediately,” he said at his morning press briefing. “That’s going to allow us to immediately take hundreds of inmates out of Rikers the right way.”
On Tuesday, de Blasio announced the city would undertake a five-pronged approach to addressing horrendous conditions at the jail complex as well as staffing shortages that threaten the safety of inmates and correction officers. Part of the plan involves assigning the NYPD, whose rank and file has long had a strained relationship with the mayor, to relieve correction officers in the courts.
But critics have panned his plan, with the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association and reform advocates both calling it insufficient and too late coming.
On Wednesday, de Blasio also took heat from the family of Brandon Rodriguez, who died by suicide in Rikers last month. Their lawyer William Wagstaff laced into the mayor for attending a star-studded gala instead of bearing witness at the jail.
“To think the mayor made time to attend the Met Gala but hasn’t found time to inspect Rikers Island is disheartening,” he said. “People are dying, and families are grieving; there is no time to party.”
As part of his initial Tuesday announcement, de Blasio called for the Less Is More Act to be enacted. Wednesday he doubled down, demanding that once again and dispatching his First Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan to the City Council to deliver the message at an oversight hearing.
“Less Is More could be signed today,” Fuleihan said. “The state must sign Less Is More first.”
Hochul spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hayes said the governor is still reviewing the bill, but one state lawmaker told the Daily News on Wednesday that she is poised to sign it Thursday afternoon. Another state legislator confirmed that Hochul has expressed interest in signing off on the bill Thursday, but added that it’s not 100% locked in.
Still, the question remains how “immediate” relief from such a law would be.
According to the first state lawmaker, Hochul’s office has proposed several amendments to the bill — including one that would change when it would go into effect from March to September 2022.
“That defies the purpose of we’re what trying to do here,” the legislator said.
De Blasio’s demands to Hochul serve as a test case in the relatively new dynamic between the two. For years, de Blasio and Hochul’s predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had a testy relationship, which flared up over similar demands.
On Tuesday, the mayor made sure to thank both Hochul and Benjamin for being “very responsive” on Rikers. As of Wednesday afternoon though, the bill remained unsigned.
The goal is to alleviate overcrowding and staffing shortages.
Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi testified Wednesday that of the 8,400 officers, 2,700 of them, about 32%, are currently unable to work with inmates because they’re out sick, AWOL or on medically modified duty.
And Schiraldi said the agency is now adding incentives for its employees to report to work.
“Officers who have not been AWOL or called in sick for more than five days since April will receive a bonus for each triple they worked, and that will extend through December,” he said.
Over the past 12 months, there have been 11 deaths in city jails. Five of those have occurred during Schiraldi’s tenure.
Hizzoner is also calling on the state to expedite the process of transferring prisoners who are eligible from Rikers to state prisons, which he said would also account for “hundreds” of detainees now being overseen by the city. “We want to see that being sped up,” he said. And then there’s the state court system, which de Blasio has blamed ceaselessly of late for a marked increase in violent crime. He’s now calling on the courts to rely on supervised release guidelines to stanch the flow of prisoners being sent to Rikers — a statement that could be construed as running counter to his recent tough-oncrime rhetoric — though de Blasio and Fuleihan said it would be reserved only for nonviolent offenders.
“[It] can be used more on the front end,” de Blasio said Wednesday. “We’re urging the courts to do that for nonviolent offenders.”
But after weathering rebukes Tuesday from correction officers and advocates, on Wednesday, it was the court system’s turn. Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said de Blasio’s proposal to use supervised release is “not new.”
“Other than to constantly blame the court system for his administration’s failures in the area of criminal justice, we have little contact with the mayor’s office collaboratively,” he said. “The mayor’s proposal is not new. It is something we have been doing throughout the entire pandemic.”
Further complicating the situation, Chalfen said, is the fact that for supervised release to occur, defendants have to be brought to court, which the Correction Department has had difficulty doing in recent months.
“Our experience is that for the vast majority of these cases, you will not get a disposition via remote appearance,” he said.
He stressed that “the majority of these cases represent violent felons in on serious charges.”
De Blasio has not visited Rikers Island in at least three years.
On Wednesday, he said he intends to appear at the jail complex before his term is up in December, but didn’t offer a time line as to exactly when.