In 1953, a special mayoral panel was convened to study the operations of the New York City Department of Correction. It recommended to Mayor Robert Wagner the creation of an unpaid citizen watchdog agency, the Board of Correction, to provide management and planning assistance to the Department and to monitor the City's jail system on behalf of the public.

In 1957, the Mayor appointed the Board's first nine members. They were Carl M. Loeb (Chair), Lisle C. Carter, Jr., Robert E. Curry, D. John Heyman, Rev. Vincent de Paul Lee, Rev. Robert J. McCracken, Rev. Sidney G. Menk, Rose M. Singer, and Ethel H. Wise. In 1988, Mrs. Singer's long and dedicated service to the Board and the City's jail system was officially recognized when the new women's facility on Rikers Island was named the Rose M. Singer Center.

In November 1975, the Board's recommendations to the Charter Revision Commission were adopted when the electorate approved a revised City Charter by referendum. As a result, on January 1, 1977 (the effective date of the new Charter), the Board's mandate was expanded in three significant ways:

  • The Board was directed to establish Minimum Standards for the care, custody, treatment, supervision, and discipline of all persons confined within Department of Correction facilities.
  • The Charter directed the Board to establish procedures for the hearing of grievances, complaints, or requests for assistance from people in custody or Department employees.
  • The Board was authorized to conduct hearings, or study or investigate any matter within the Department's jurisdiction, and to make recommendations and submit reports of its findings to the appropriate authorities. Additionally, the Board was given subpoena power and the authority to enforce it in a court of law.

Two additional 1977 Charter revisions were designed to promote independent BOC oversight of the Department:

  • New language redefined the process by which members were to be appointed to the Board. Instead of vesting sole appointing authority with the Mayor, the new language provided that three members were to be appointed by the Mayor, three by the City Council, and three by the Mayor upon the joint nomination of the presiding Justices of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the first and second judicial departments.
  • The Board was authorized to hire its own staff.

Nationally, the Board remains a unique entity in the field of correctional oversight because of the breadth of its mandate, resources, and powers.