Fixing New York City's Jails: A Federal Receiver? (Closing Remarks)

Elizabeth Glazer

Thank you so much, Errol, and thank you to both of our amazing panels and our speakers. It's really been incredibly informative at a crucial time for us. I'm just going to do a really quick CliffsNotes wrap-up. I think the one thing that really became clear is we know that this receivership is an awesome power one to be used sparingly and as a last resort. And the question, is that where we are now with Rikers, with violence spiking to rates that we haven't seen in decades, as Michael pointed out seven to eight times compared to a sister city, Los Angeles, as the Monitor has pointed out, a third of the workforce is out. Even before the monitor came in, conditions have been appalling for decades, appalling to the degree that violates the constitution and shocks the conscience. We've had five consent decrees over eight mayors and 24 commissioners.

We've had increasing budgets this year at $1.25 billion. And the latest Monitor, a person of wide experience in reputation with a world-class team, has spent the last six years and thousands of pages detailing what needs to be done. And even he is very cautious about what is doable under the current structures. And so with all the goodwill and money in the world, these shocks to just basic humanity have not been fixed. Why? I think that there is something to this issue that structurally something is just broken. Michael mentioned this, Vinnie mentioned it, almost every panelist did. And Vinnie outlined the list, and this panel has two union rules that forbid hiring from outside even when there are big holes in management, the problem of procurement, taking years to order even locking doors, and all of this has happened at a time when correctional practice in theory is shifting. And the plan shifts with every new commissioner again, as Michael said, one every two to three years and every new mayor.

And so is it possible that the city alone with its own powers could make these kinds of seismic changes that need to be made? There is law and there's lore that seem to present obstacles. Does the city have the power over either of those? How do we know when there is progress and according to whom? Here's one quick example. On the very same day that the Monitor, a couple of days ago heralded improvements, an increase in the number of people who are getting to their medical appointments. On that very day, another court held the department in contempt for failing to get people to their medical appointments. So how do we know what the facts on the ground are to make these judgments? When is there progress, and does the city have the right plan? And maybe most importantly, to the point that this panel and the last panel and Sara Norman also made, who drives it to the end and to its goals without fear or favor?

So it's a gamble whether the city has the power, whether this commissioner or this mayor will be around long enough to lead and sustain what has to be, as Gladys has pointed out, really a very strong vision of what the future should be, whether they can build a team in consensus without being buffeted by the daily challenge of politics, both big P politics and small P politics. At the end of the day, this is going to be the judge's call, and it will require the most difficult of judgments, first, just understanding what the obstacles to change are now and over the past 40 years, and then piercing the data if there is data, to understand what changes are actually happening and to what degree the city alone can continue to drive. So to me, we seem to be in a boiling the frog moment. The water's been boiling for a long time, and it's time to address it with a different kind of power that has a different kind of durability and a different allegiance than our current structure has. Otherwise, we all know what happens to the frog.

So I just wanted to thank everybody. Really it's such an important issue, such great insights, such amazing knowledge in what is an incredibly difficult issue confronting the city. We have more information and background briefers on the Columbia Justice Lab site and on the Vital City site. We will email everybody who signed up that information. There have also been some questions that have come in that, as Vinnie said at the beginning, we will answer and post the answers on the website, and we'll be in touch as soon as we have a recording of this to also make sure that everybody who signed up and anybody else who would like to go to either the Columbia Justice website or the Vital City site could see. So thank you everybody so much for your time. Really appreciate, it and have a good day.