Legal Aid Chief Applauds Veto Of Bill That Would Transfer Rikers Jurisdiction

"The Legal Aid Society applauds Governor Cuomo’s veto of the bill that would have unconstitutionally transferred jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed at Rikers Island from the Bronx to Queens County. We believe this effort was motivated by forum-shopping by the correction officers’ union which fears that prosecutions by the Bronx District Attorney will lead to the convictions of Department of Correction (DOC) staff who assault prisoners, smuggle contraband and engage in other crimes.

"The fact of rampant brutality by correction staff is documented in The Legal Aid Society’s federal lawsuit Nunez v. City of New York, No. 11-cv-5845 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). The complaint details a culture of violence at the jails in which DOC staff have inflicted serious injuries on incarcerated people in DOC facilities. In August of this year the United Stated Department of Justice issued a report which reviewed 200 use of force incidents and concluded that there existed a systemic and pervasive pattern of unnecessary and excessive force against prisoners. This month the Department of Justice formally joined the Nunez case due to the failure of the City to agree to verifiable and enforceable reforms.

"In the wake of the Bronx District Attorney’s request for funds to bolster his efforts to investigate and prosecute violent staff misconduct we were deeply concerned that a transfer of jurisdiction would not only set back immediate efforts to reform the jails but also would signal a green light that brutality is tolerable. The fear of robust prosecutions of correction officers for wrongdoing should not be permitted to become the motivating force in an effort to change the long-established structure of our court system. Enactment of this law would have cast a cloud over the integrity of the judicial system and send the wrong signal about accountability on Rikers Island.”