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Forever in debt to your priceless advice

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Ivy league consultants: is there anything they can’t do?

The report recounted that McKinsey had tested its new anti-violence strategy in what the firm called “Restart” housing units at Rikers. The results were striking. Violence had dropped more than 50% in the Restart facilities, the McKinsey partners wrote.

The number was bogus. Jail officials and McKinsey consultants had jointly rigged the Restart program in its earliest phase to all but guarantee there would be few violent episodes, according to documents and interviews. They stacked the units with inmates they believed to be compliant and unlikely to get into fights or to attack staff.

Publicly, McKinsey and top corrections officials touted the drop in violence in these units as an early sign of their project’s success — without disclosing that they had tilted the scale in favor of that result. After McKinsey handed off the inmate selection process, about a year into the firm’s work at Rikers, jail officials continued to manipulate the population of the Restart units to keep their violence numbers low.

In October of this year, the New York City Council voted to approve Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to close Rikers. The vote occurred during the same month that a federal monitor, appointed by a court to oversee reform at Rikers, revealed that violence by jail guards there continues to worsen. Overall, using the metrics employed by McKinsey, jailhouse violence has risen nearly 50% since the firm began its assignment.

The full story of how New York City came to pay McKinsey $27.5 million only to abandon many of the firm’s recommendations and decide to shut Rikers has never been told. A ProPublica investigation, based on interviews with 36 people, half of whom worked directly on the project, as well as more than 10,000 pages of project documents, internal emails and other records, reveals that problems dogged the project at every stage.

Of course, the city could have just spent the $27 million to actually improve conditions rather than giving it to consultants with no actual expertise to learn how to make things worse, but where’s the profit taking by well connected people in that?

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