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  • Writer's pictureSarena Townsend

NYC DOC Misclassified Slashing Data Calls Into Question Veracity of Touted Improvements at Rikers

Confirms Need for Federal Receiver

At a crucial time in the New York City Department of Correction's legacy, uncovered internal emails seem to corroborate growing concerns that NYCDOC has not been forthcoming with its statistics on violence, including the number of slashings that have occured during DOC Commissioner Louis Molina's tenure.

Federal Judge Laura Swain is awaiting receipt of motions from the parties in the widely-reported Nunez case that settled in 2015 with promises of reform and an agreed-upon federal consent decree overseen for almost a decade by Federal Monitor Steve Martin. After almost two years of unprecedented decline, including 27 detainee deaths on Mayor Eric Adams' watch, Judge Swain was finally persuaded by the Plaintiff's and the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York to consider motions for federal receivership, due next month.

By all accounts, Judge Swain's decision to allow for receivership motions was catalyzed by apparent "bad faith" acts by both Mayor Adams and Commissioner Molina when they decided, over the course of Adams' tenure, to systematically close all avenues of oversight and transparency into the Department, culminating in a "hamfisted" publicity stunt wherein they simultaneously announced that they would end the practice of informing the public of in-custody deaths, while showing to a small, hand-picked audience of friendly media flattering portions of otherwise horrifying events that were captured on DOC surveillance video. Judge Swain admonished Commissioner Molina at his most recent Nunez court appearance, noting her concern that he was misleading the public about the dangerous conditions on Rikers Island.

This newest discovery, a hurried email from DOC's internal Nunez manager instructing immediate updates/corrections to mischaracterized acts of violence to comport with an upcoming public Federal Monitor's Report (due October 5) appears - at best - to verify DOC's inability to keep accurate data on slashings and stabbings; at worst, it evidences purposeful under-reporting of violence on Rikers. The email thread clearly indicates that the miscategorized incidents occurred in January and June 2023, that high-ranking DOC staff were informed in July 2023 of the erroneous classification, that said staff were instructed in July to correct the data to indicate that the incidents were in fact slashings, but that no such corrections were made.

Sarena Townsend, FSF Partner and former head of internal affairs on Rikers Island from 2016-2022, is quoted in the Daily News article, saying: “If Commissioner Molina was actually worried about reporting things accurately, these [classifications] would have been changed when the email was sent by Glover to Miller two months ago... It’s hard to feign ignorance when you have an email highlighted in yellow and it begs the question, why now.”

Stay tuned for many more updates on the fate of Rikers Island.


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