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Findings on Rikers Violence in $27 Million Report Now Disputed

Department of Correction officials once made public data showing a sharp decline in violence at the Rikers Island Jail, figures produced by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But officials ignored internal concerns that the numbers were bogus, according to an investigation conducted by the New York Daily News.

“Then-Commissioner Joseph Ponte hired consultant McKinsey in 2015 to help implement ‘an anti-violence reform agenda’ as the troubled agency adjusted to oversight by a federal monitor. The first contract with the consulting firm was for $5.9 million,” according to the story.

By the time McKinsey’s work was complete in April 2017, its contract had increased to $27 million.

“Internal DOC emails and court documents obtained by The News show staffers repeatedly questioned the McKinsey figures showing a drop in violence in some Rikers jails — including one stat touted by Ponte and Chief of Staff Jeff Thamkittikasem that reported a miraculous 70% decline in violence through what was called the ‘Restart’ initiative at two Rikers facilities.”

A former senior DOC official was quoted in the New York Daily News on Wednesday as saying, “We realized these numbers were not accurate.”

At just about the same time that the disputed McKinsey report was released in 2017, another report was issued, this one from the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, formed at the request of New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito. It was made up of an independent body of experts, policymakers, and advocates charged with exploring the ways to reduce the population held at Rikers, the feasibility of moving the jail facilities off Rikers Island, and the feasibility of alternate uses of Rikers Island itself.

In April 2017, the Commission issued A More Just New York City, an evidence-based set of recommendations for improving New York City’s criminal justice system, including closing the dysfunctional jail complex on Rikers Island, significantly reducing the number of people in jail, and shifting to a modern system of smaller facilities located near the borough criminal courts.

“Jailing so many people on parole warrants does little for public safety and is counterproductive to the success of people who are reentering society from prison,” wrote the Independent Commission, also known as the Lippman Commission and the body that in 2017, under the direction of former chief judge Jonathan Lippman, recommended closing Rikers.

Earlier this month, the City Planning Commission formally voted in favor of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to replace Rikers with smaller borough-based facilities.

“Closing Rikers Island is a key piece of creating a smaller, safer and fairer criminal justice system in New York City,” de Blasio said in a statement on the Roadmap to Closing Rikers website. “It is the right thing to do, but will take time, the effort of many and tough decisions along the way.”