Street closures for UN General Assembly

Rikers Island going back to violence of the 90s, former corrections commissioner Kerik says

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NEW YORK (PIX11)-- When Bernard Kerik was Commissioner of Corrections, the inmate population at Rikers Island was twice as big as it is now. Naysayers felt Rikers was too violent, too mismanaged to to fixed.

But over his six year tenure, Kerik succeeded in turning things around and created a more secure facility for inmates and corrections officers as well. But over the past decade, as the U.S. Attorney noted, Rikers has been reverting back to the bad old days.

"Rikers Island is a broken institution for adolescents," declared U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, revealing the findings of a federal investigation. It concluded that Rikers is a "hellhole" where adolescent inmates run amok and are routinely beaten by jailers. It's a situation similar to what existed there some 20 years ago.

Bernard Kerik is credited with turning one of the nation's most violent and mismanaged jail systems into a model for efficiency, accountability and security, during his tenure as corrections commissioner. During an exclusive interview with Kerik, who also served as police commissioner, and later spent three years in prison for tax evasion and lying to federal authorities, he told me he was disappointed to see the system he helped fix, broken again.

"They're going back to just the way it was prior to 1994 when violence was at an all-time high," he said, adding. "I think a number of policies and procedures that were in place back then , were no followed."

The federal investigation found that excessive force by corrections officers violated constitutional rights of male inmates between 16 and 18. In an interview with Mary Murphy in 1999, Kerik noted that the adolescent housing facility had been the most violent at Rikers, but he helped change all that.

"We put in an excess of 300 cameras in that area to insure the safety of inmates and corrections officers as well," he said then. In the current interview he noted, "Today what we need is additional cameras and they're going to need additional training."

In 1999, he said there was another key factor that helped turning things around.

"I think most importantly, it's the training on how to deal with violence inmates."

Kerik asserted Tuesday, "They've lost that training potential. It has to be brought back just the way it was years ago." He said, "I think the Mayor has to look at this and question what's happened and he's got to assure that it stops."

Kerik expressed the hope that he city follows the U.S. Attorneys 70 recommendations for reform.

"It's a warning," he declared. "The U.S. Attorney has made it clear you've got to fix this or we're going to come in and fix it for you."

Kerik had praise for the majority of hard-working corrections officers and expressed the hope that reforms can be implemented to avoid a federal monitor from coming in to run the city's jail system.

The Mayor and city have 49 days to respond to the disturbing findings in the U.S. Attorney's report.