Adams' NYC jail chief resists Rikers Island federal takeover amid scandals, transgender inmate rape conviction

Commissioner pushed back on suggestion of an independent receivership for Rikers Island

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The chief of the New York City jail system resisted calls for a federal takeover in a hearing before a federal judge Tuesday amid a plague of scandals linked to the notorious Rikers Island, including the recent sentencing of a transgender inmate convicted of raping a female prisoner in the showers.  

Louis Molina, commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction, appeared remotely before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain on Tuesday and insisted he agreed with the recommendations of a federal monitor appointed as part of a decade-old class action lawsuit to remedy problems within Rikers Island and other New York City jails. Molina claimed he was up to the task and the suggestion floated by federal prosecutors to appoint an independent receiver to issue in sweeping reforms to address "an extraordinary level of violence and disorder" following six years of noncompliance was not necessary. 

"The monitor and I are aligned," Molina said Tuesday, according to New York Daily News. "I assure this court, you will see change. We have not passed the point of no return."

DOJ THREATENS TAKEOVER OF NYC'S RIKERS ISLAND, OTHER JAILS AMID ‘EXTRAORDINARY LEVEL OF VIOLENCE AND DISORDER’ 

The entrance to Rikers Island on Oct. 19, 2021, in New York City.

The entrance to Rikers Island on Oct. 19, 2021, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The hearing came a day after Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark announced that a transgender inmate had been sentenced to seven years after pleading guilty to raping a 33-year-old female inmate in the showers of the woman’s facility on Rikers Island in February 2021. 

Ramel Blount, also known as Diamond Blount, approached the victim from behind after she finished showering, pushed her down by applying pressure to the back of her neck, and raped her, prosecutors said. 

Louis Molina speaks to President of Correction Captains Association Patrick Ferraiuolo during Mayor-elect Eric Adams' announcement on his pick for Department of Correction commissioner at Brooklyn Borough Hall.

Louis Molina speaks to President of Correction Captains Association Patrick Ferraiuolo during Mayor-elect Eric Adams' announcement on his pick for Department of Correction commissioner at Brooklyn Borough Hall. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The victim reported the incident, and a rape kit was administered, which resulted in a DNA hit in the New York State Registry. In addition to the seven years behind bars, Blount was sentenced to eight years of post-release. A full order of protection was issued, and the defendant is required to register as a sex offender. Blount pleaded guilty to attempted rape in the first degree on April 7, 2022. 

Tuesday’s hearing with Molina did not focus on the rape case but did center on scathing revelations from a 78-page report filed by federal monitor Steven Martin last month. The report detailed worsening violence and safety issues at Rikers Island, inmates that miss thousands of medical appointments each month, and 30% of uniformed staff calling out sick or otherwise unavailable for duties. 

Mayor-elect Eric Adams congratulates Louis Molina as his pick for Department of Correction commissioner at Brooklyn Borough Hall. 

Mayor-elect Eric Adams congratulates Louis Molina as his pick for Department of Correction commissioner at Brooklyn Borough Hall.  (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Molina placed blame for the dysfunction on the previous de Blasio administration’s plan to shutter Rikers Island, which led to divestment in the jail complex. Swain voiced frustration over the lack of improvements since Molina took the job once Mayor Eric Adams took office in January. 

"Restarting the clock on reforms because a new administration has taken office can’t be the answer," Swain said, describing recent reports from the federal monitor as "disturbing." 

Mary Lynne Werlwas, the attorney for plaintiffs, described Molina’s assurance as "too little, too late." 

"What has transpired in 2022 alone seriously constrains the reasonableness of optimism," she said, according to the New York Post. 

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During Tuesday’s hearing, assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Powell pointed to fundamental issues of the "alarming" staff absenteeism rate, unstaffed jail posts and the availability of weapons in the jails.

"We continue to be greatly concerned about the unfit conditions in the facilities and the violence," the prosecutor said, according to Daily News. "We can’t just hit the reset button each time a new administration comes in and wait for the development of a new written plan or the rollout of a new initiative. The city must now take a new and different approach."

Swain ordered an "action plan" be drafted by the city and Martin by May 17. The judge scheduled another hearing on the matter for May 24. 

Adams on Tuesday said the city will fund the hiring on 578 new correction officers, far less than the 3,000 demanded last week by the president of the largest department of correction union.