NYC paid McKinsey $27.5m to reduce violence at Riker's, producing useless recommendations backed by junk evidence

Consulting giant McKinsey — notorious price-gougers and architects of ICE's gulags — took on a contract to help reduce violence at Riker's Island, and, $27.5m later, produced nothing but a set of trite and pointless recommendations that were largely ignored, backed by "research" that both McKinsey personnel and Riker's guards helped to falsify.

Though McKinsey and city officials deny any falsification, Propublica's public records requests, interviews with sources with first-hand knowledge, and former corrections commissioner Joseph Ponte's sworn deposition all show that the program's overseers and designers "were cherry-picking docile inmates" to make it seem that the program was working.

The program was called Restart, and it was formulated without any input from inmates or clinic staff "or others with direct insights into drivers of violence." Instead, the McKinsey team observed and communicated with the guards, whose mindset their adopted, attracting censure from a higher-up who warned them off a burgeoning obsession with tasers, shotguns and "aggressive dogs."

McKinsey also produced a high-priced data analytics package for Rikers, which was never put into use — the $5.5m program crashed the jail's antiquated computers, and relied on technologically unskilled guards and supervisors to correctly input large amounts of data and interpret the analysis the system produced.

Ultimately, McKinsey produced a 14-point plan based on spectacular results from the Restart pilot programs, even as consultants and guards both scrambled to exclude violence-prone prisoners from those test populations, revising their exclusion list whenever there were flare-ups of violence in the test units.

The 14-point plan was pretty anodyne, with things like "improved educational opportunities" and "more guard training." Ultimately, it proved no more useful than the data analytics package.

NY Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced in March 2017 that he would be shutting down Rikers. Violence had risen by 50% since McKinsey completed its work. The first unit that was shut was the GMDC, home to McKinsey's Restart program. According to Propublica, "McKinsey never stopped soliciting projects at Rikers."

But for each Restart unit, jail officials had replaced inmates selected by the HUB but considered troublesome with alternates, believed to be more accommodating, chosen from a list provided by McKinsey. One email, forwarded to several consultants and obtained by ProPublica, shows a jail guard carefully curating the gang members on McKinsey's initial list. One inmate was a Blood "but acceptable for program," the guard wrote. The two other gang members on the list — a Latin King and a Crip — were "not acceptable."

Today, McKinsey acknowledges that potentially unruly inmates were intentionally excluded from the earliest Restart units, but says it was done only to give the consultants time to fine-tune their approach. Yet neither they nor their clients disclosed that caveat when Ponte used a McKinsey PowerPoint to plug the violence levels at initial Restart units as "lower than GMDC and DOC overall" during a November 2015 hearing before the Correction Department's oversight board.

Ponte began expanding the Restart program to other Rikers facilities. In time, according to Ponte's deposition and McKinsey, the filtering of problematic inmates stopped. But seven current and former senior corrections officials interviewed by ProPublica said the practice persisted. (These sources did not know whether the McKinsey consultants were aware that the practice continued.)

New York City Paid McKinsey Millions to Stem Jail Violence. Instead, Violence Soared. [Ian MacDougall/Propublica]