Prosecutor: NYC might face legal action over jails

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NEW YORK (AP) — A federal prosecutor said Monday he was troubled by a news report that New York City officials provided incomplete statistics on violence at problem-plagued Rikers Island jail and warned he may take legal action to force meaningful reforms.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara issued the unusual written statement after The New York Times reported that a confidential report showed that the city omitted hundreds of inmate fights from statistics turned over to federal authorities investigating possible civil rights violations. The newspaper also said the jail supervisors involved in the report had been promoted.

"If, as has been reported, incomplete and inaccurate information has been provided to us, and questionable promotions may have occurred, it does not instill confidence in us that the city will quickly meet its constitutional obligations," he said.

Bharara said his office was not jumping to conclusions about the city's commitment to reform but that all options remain open.

"We stand ready to take legal action to compel long-overdue reforms at Rikers, if that becomes necessary to get the job done," he said.

Early last month, Bharara's office issued a blistering report on the Justice Department's 2½-year investigation into violence at three Rikers Island juvenile jail facilities. It found the jails to be extremely violent and unsafe and a place where guards routinely violate constitutional rights of teenage inmates, subjecting them to the "rampant use of unnecessary and excessive force."

Since that report was made public, Bharara said, his office has been in discussions to move the city and its correction department to swiftly implement reforms. By law, government lawyers must wait 49 days before filing a lawsuit. Those 49 days have passed since they issued their findings letter.

"While we are listening to their promises to take various steps, we have an independent responsibility to ensure that the Constitution is respected and upheld everywhere, including on Rikers Island, and part of that duty is to guarantee that needed reforms are lasting, verifiable, and enforceable," Bharara said.

Also Monday, the city's comptroller, Scott Stringer, called for the suspension of the two jail supervisors mentioned as being promoted in The Times' report.

In a statement, the city's corporation counsel, Zachary Carter, said officials are committed to reforming Rikers Island.

"We expect to demonstrate through our actions and verifiable data — not promises or talk — that meaningful operational reforms are already underway and will continue," he said.

New York's jails have come under increasing scrutiny since The Associated Press first exposed the horrific deaths of two seriously mentally ill inmates earlier this year — one who died of hyperthermia in a 101-degree cell and another diabetic inmate who sexually mutilated himself while locked alone for seven days inside a cell last fall. Nearly 40 percent of the roughly 11,500 daily inmates have a mental health diagnosis.

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