Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of...

Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks at a news conference in Manhattan on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara speculated on Wednesday that New York's state prison system might be an appropriate target for considering the same type of reform efforts his office has pursued at New York City's Rikers Island jail.

His remarks came during a student forum at New York University Law School, after he discussed mass incarceration, reforms to cut down brutality at Rikers, and an ongoing investigation of an inmate death at Fishkill state prison that his office is monitoring.

"It makes you wonder and think, while we talk about incarceration, is there a systemic problem generally in the country but more specifically because I'm in New York, is there a particular problem with the state Department of Corrections," Bharara said.

The questions, he added, include "how they supervise the various facilities in the state and how they treat people who are in their custody . . . and whether it's about time that there is a very hard look at how the Department of Corrections operates facilities in New York."

Bharara and his office declined to elaborate on his remarks afterward when asked if the office was itself undertaking such a study. The state Department of Corrections and Community Services declined to comment on his remarks.

The Correctional Association of New York, a prison reform group, in August called for a Justice Department investigation of a culture of violence and abuse in the state's prison system.

"We are hopeful that the Department of Justice will launch a comprehensive and systemwide investigation that will expose the breadth and depth of these injustices," the group's executive director, Soffiyah Elijah, said Wednesday after being told of Bharara's remarks.

The Manhattan U.S. attorney's office released a massive report laying out abuses of juveniles at Rikers' facilities last year, and earlier this year it agreed with the city and private plaintiffs on a federal monitor to oversee sweeping reforms at the jail.

In August, Bharara announced that his office would be "monitoring" an investigation of the beating death of inmate Samuel Harrell at the state's Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon that is being conducted by the Dutchess County district attorney.

Harrell, 30, died following an altercation with guards. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

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