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NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Sep 29, 2022

Nation’s Defense Bar Renews Demand for Rikers Remedy

Washington, DC (Sept. 29, 2022) – Today, NACDL and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL) delivered a renewed and urgent request to the New York City Council and the Public Advocate regarding the ongoing crisis at Rikers Island detention center. In March of this year, the court-appointed Monitor for Rikers released a report which found that rates of violence remained high at Rikers since the Monitor, Steve J. Martin, was appointed to oversee the complex. In response to this report, NACDL and NYSACDL submitted a letter demanding DOJ leadership respond to the situation immediately, including by appointing a Receiver to address prolonged resistance by local or state government. Despite these urgent calls for action, earlier this month, the NYC Board of Corrections released a report, in addition to the latest report from the Monitor, which shows the continued, preventable, and inhumane conditions at Rikers Island, as well as other facilities. The latest news out of Rikers includes the commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections, Louis Molina, directing his senior staff to ensure that a dying man was "off the Department’s count." In another instance, a man detained at Rikers died after officers stood by and failed to intervene following a suicide attempt. It is evident that the City’s failure to address these problems has resulted in the 16 deaths this year at Rikers Island alone. NACDL and NYSACDL are calling on leadership to ameliorate the problem by immediately appointing a Receiver.  

"While this coverage focuses on Rikers Island, this is not a unique situation: pretrial detention facilities across the country are denying individuals' basic human rights and care," said NACDL President Nellie King. "People are held in inhumane and life-threatening conditions while awaiting their constitutional right to trial. Our country defends the ideal that every person is innocent until proven guilty, and more so, the 8th Amendment safeguards the citizen accused from cruel and unusual punishment. Despite these guarantees, our clients are consistently denied fundamental rights while awaiting trial. It is past time that those elected and appointed to protect and uphold these rights use their power to remedy this dire situation."

"The lethal conditions at this facility demand immediate action," said NYSACDL President Brian Melber. "No one in the United States should face this kind of inhumane and life-threatening treatment when accused of a crime. The appointment of a Receiver without delay is only the first, most essential step that must be taken. Holding our fellow citizens in these conditions violates our most sacred ideals. It cannot be allowed to continue."

As the letter notes, "Disorganized and ineffective supervision has contributed to a persistent pattern of misconduct by corrections officers in an entrenched culture of apathy. Enough is enough; it’s time to correct the Corrections Department … Mayor Adams has strongly opposed the appointment of a Receiver, but the City Council and the Public Advocate should call for the Court to appoint one over his objection. Chief Judge Swain should hear from the people of the City of New York through their City Council and Public Advocate. We urge you to call for the appointment of a Receiver because the Mayor and his Commissioner are not addressing and will not address the systemic problems at Rikers Island." 

See also: 
•   NACDL March 2022 statement and December 2021 statement on the conditions at Rikers Island. 


Kate Holden, NACDL Public Affairs and Communications Associate, (202) 465-7624 or kholden@nacdl.org

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.

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NACDL - National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Founded in 1958, NACDL is the largest organization for criminal defense lawyers fighting to preserve fairness within America's criminal justice system. The organization has more than 10,000 direct members including criminal defense attorneys in private practice, public defenders in state or federal court, U.S. military defense counsel, law professors and judges.