As prepared for delivery
Commissioner Brann testimony before the Board of Correction
April 23, 2019
I want to start by saying that we believe DOC and BOC share the same overall goals - to run a system that is safe, humane and produces positive outcomes.
We are working every day on how to do that well.
- I am pleased to provide opening remarks today regarding the impressive strides we have made at the Department in our efforts to become PREA compliant, in our ongoing commitment to sexual safety, and our efforts to adhere to best practices in investigative procedure and documentation as they relate to sexual abuse complaints.
- The safety and security of those in the Department’s custody, and of those who work in Department facilities, are DOC’s primary concern and I take sexual safety standards personally and seriously.
- Since late 2014, the Department has been working with the Moss Group, a highly respected national leader in PREA compliance consulting, in order to improve sexual safety across DOC facilities.
- The partnership between the Moss Group and DOC has rested on an alignment of leadership values and comprehensive and well-planned implementation of strengthened policy and practice, leadership and supervisory development, and transformative and skill-based training.
- To begin, the Moss Group conducted sexual safety assessments at seven facilities, with a focus on key standards to support system-wide enhancement of compliance with PREA standards.
- Within 60 days receiving the Moss Group’s sexual safety assessment in the Department began a system-wide effort to institutionalize policies and practices that support and sustain PREA compliance and the prevention of inmate sexual abuse and harassment.
- Over the past four years, the Department has moved to:
- Create and fully staff a PREA investigation and compliance team within the Investigations Division;
- Implement a comprehensive PREA policy that focuses on inmate safety;
- Deliver initial and refresher PREA training courses to all uniform and non-uniform DOC staff, as well as all volunteers and contractors; and
- Provide all individuals in our custody with internal and external confidential methods of reporting sexual abuse allegations;
- The Department remains committed to preventing sexual abuse through proper risk assessment and the provision of safe housing. Every individual who comes into our custody goes through an intake process that includes a safety risk assessment.
- This assessment considers a number of factors that may make an individual vulnerable - including previous sexual abuse, nature of the crime of which they are accused, sexual orientation, whether the individual is small in stature or appears gender non-conforming – and advises on the need for special housing.
- In accordance with Executive Order 16, the Department is committed to housing individuals by gender identity and has created a first-of-its-kind transgender housing model:
- If at any point in the intake process, an individual identifies themselves as transgender female, the individual is transported to the Rose M. Singer Center to complete the intake process and be housed in transgender new admission housing.
- Following intake, transgender individuals have the opportunity to be housed either in the transgender housing unit (THU) or in a GP facility with cis-female individuals.
- Regardless of where they are housed within RMSC, transgender inmates have the same access to programs, education, and healthcare as the other women in RMSC. Transgender female individuals can also elect to be housed in male facilities, so long as it does not present a security risk.
- To date, all transgender men in the Department’s custody have been housed at RMSC. Should a transgender male request to be housed at a male facility, the Department would make the necessary accommodations, after evaluating any potential risks.
- Over the past year, the Department has worked to further enhance its PREA processes by implementing all 8 of the Board’s recent audit recommendations, and implemented and executed a corrective action plan to address an outstanding administrative case backlog:
- ALL PREA cases are investigated within 72 hours, but due to staffing shortages, finalizing paperwork to administratively close at cases had fallen behind. As a result, the Department implemented an aggressive corrective action plan that required the closure of 1,216 sexual assault cases, raising the staff of PREA investigators to 30, and the hiring of additional PREA Team managers by the end of February 2019.
- The Department successfully met this goal and I am incredibly proud of the hard work of everyone who has contributed, including the PREA Team.
- The Department has worked collaboratively with the Department of Investigations and the City’s District Attorneys to appropriately handle sexual abuse and sexual harassment complaints.
- Every sexual abuse case that comes to the PREA investigations team is immediately referred to DOI via email.
- The PREA team awaits notification from DOI that DOC is authorized to proceed before commencing its investigation. This process does not measurably delay our investigation, because DOI is prompt in their reply.
- If, during the Department’s investigation, investigators uncover evidence that supports criminality, the Department then refers the matter again to DOI and/or the DAs office.
- In the coming months the Department will undergo a Federal Audit to assess its PREA compliance. The preliminary results of a mock audit of the Rose M. Singer Center performed by the Moss Group have yielded promising results which I am happy to share a copy of with the Board [shortly].
- The mock audit indicated ratings of compliance with 74 percent of the standards and 92 percent of the sub-standards.
- In comparison, the mock audit in 2016 indicated ratings of compliance with 17 percent of the standards and 31 percent of the sub-standards.
- The auditor was impressed by how knowledgeable the correction officers and other staff members were about PREA, first response, and evidence collection. Also impressive was the testing for the recruits measuring the level of understanding staff has retained following PREA training.
- I am further encouraged by the Nunez Monitor’s recent report which showed that the Department has continued to improve in its PREA compliance and in the timeliness of its case closure rate:
- In order to evaluate the quality of the Department’s investigations, the monitoring team evaluated investigation files for half of the investigations closed during the recent monitoring period.
- Although the report noted areas wherein the Department could improve, overall the monitors found “improvements over cases reviewed in the past, particularly in timely response to the scene, interviews with youth witnesses where investigators are asking key questions and relevant follow-up questions, and detailed synopses of what was viewed on Genetec or hand-held footage.”
- The monitoring team monitor’s report concluded “the [PREA] investigators’ findings were reasonable based on the evidence.” And that overall, “significant improvement in the timeliness and quality of investigations of sexual abuse is evident and the Monitoring Team is encouraged by the Department’s progress.”
- I credit this improvement to the hard work of Assistant Commissioner Faye Yelardy, Senior Correctional Administrator Prechelle Shannon, Deputy Commissioner Sarena Townsend, the PREA Team, the hard work of the Department’s leadership team, and our officers’ dedicated commitment to sexual safety.
- At this time I will invite Deputy Commissioner Sarena Townsend to the podium to provide testimony on behalf of the Department regarding PREA.