Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi Remarks (as Prepared for Delivery)

June 2021 BOC Meeting – Updated 6.8.21



  • Good Morning Chair Jones-Austin, Vice-Chair Richards, and members of the Board of Correction. I will keep my remarks brief this morning, as today only marks the beginning of my second week at the Department, but I did want to take advantage of this opportunity to introduce myself to you all and to briefly layout my vision for this Department’s important work over the next several months.


  • As you know, I come to DOC at a time of significant transition and reform. I have been incredibly busy over the past week meeting with uniform and non-uniform staff, program providers, people in custody, members of this Board, and other key stakeholders across the City.


  • From these discussions, it is abundantly clear to me that the Department and our partners at CHS faced unprecedented challenges throughout the COVID pandemic. The commitment and selflessness demonstrated by Department and CHS staff – walking daily into an environment that of forced proximity, rather than social distancing – over the past year is inspiring. There are many stories of heroism from the past months that never made it out into the public. I am truly honored to lead this Department into what we all hope will be brighter days ahead.


  • In order to do so, however, we must face today’s reality head-on and acknowledge that this Department is not where we need to be or want to be. Conditions within the jails, staff morale, and the Department’s relationship with the public and other key stakeholders are unsustainably bad. As the Department reopens services in the coming weeks, I will refocus Department efforts on the core issues that are impacting the City’s jails, including notably young adult violence and the services and care for seriously mentally ill people in custody.


  • I have said this to our uniform and non-uniform staff over the past week, and I’ll repeat it here: I have a very high standard of care. Of course, all people under the care of the Department must absolutely be treated with respect and dignity, but I believe we must go further to create a system where we treat all people in our care as we would want our own sons, daughters, or family members and treated if they were in the same exact situation. Likewise, I believe our staff must be treated with the same dignity and respect that we would demand for ourselves if we were working for the department, along with every single person who walks into our facilities, whether they work for a governmental agency, are volunteers or work for a non-profit, or are family members of those incarcerated. Until we treat everyone in the building with dignity and respect, the way we’d want our own treated under the same circumstances, we’ll never crack the thorny culture change issues that have plagued the department for far too long.


  • There are very real challenges facing this Department today, some of which will be discussed at greater length during this meeting. But central to each challenge is the unerring requirement that all of the people in the Department’s care and all of our staff feel seen, respected, and cared for.


  • Over the next several weeks and months, my focus will be on prioritizing this requirement through all aspects of our work, including very importantly through the provision of services and programming.


  • I really believe that more robust and better-organized programming is going to be this Department’s salvation for three main reasons:


  • First and foremost, providing programming is simply the right thing to do. It would be unimaginable for me as a parent to leave my child in a room all day with nothing to do. As people, we need to be productively engaged with our fellow human beings in order to feel human. It is as simple as that.


  • Secondly, when people are engaged in programs, they are more likely to reenter their neighborhoods as contributing members of our shared communities, thereby breaking the cycle of incarceration. When people are in our custody, it’s unacceptable not to offer them the kinds of programming that will help them turn their lives around to the greatest degree possible.


  • And finally, the key to safety for everyone living, working in, and visiting our jails is to have the people confined here engaged in meaningful programming. It is my deep and abiding belief that engagement in productive activities will help keep everyone safe, in addition to just being the right thing to do with our fellow human beings.


  • From my early discussions with many of you, I believe we share this vision.


  • However, to keep from getting ahead of ourselves, I must acknowledge that this transformation will require significant work. I promise to be transparent with this Board, to share information proactively, and to describe our challenges honestly and directly.


  • I have incredible respect for you all. I understand you engage in these meetings without compensation as concerned New Yorkers and with great intentions, and I intend to gain your feedback and engage in discussions around significant matters with you all throughout my tenure as Commissioner.


  • I can tell you right now, however, and I intend to be direct on this, that I and this Department will not be successful without the trust of this Board. I was brought in to lead this Department and to serve as an organizational change agent, something with which I have decades of experience. Collectively, we will never be successful if the Board insists on making critical operational decisions on behalf of the Department at monthly meetings.


  • I recognize – and many of you have bluntly told me – that the department has not built up a deep well of trust with the Board. I understand that that may frustrate you as you feel progress isn’t happening fast enough. I agree.


  • But the way to achieve greater progress won’t be through board actions – the Department cannot be reformed by committee. The amount of my time and staff time committed to the Board this past week, and that I foresee in the future as we will likely need several variances to the rule that is likely to pass today, will absolutely divert my attention from other critical issues like dramatically expanding programming system-wide, reforming custody for young adults and seriously mentally ill folks, expanding air conditioning throughout the system, and improving morale so staff return to work in much higher numbers – some of my priorities. Each of those is a tall order in and of themselves and if I am required to focus on everything, I won’t be able to focus on anything.


  • My team here are true professionals. They share my vision for this Department, and we’re collectively prepared to work tirelessly toward a more equitable, just, and humane system and Correction Department. I’m simply asking that you provide us the ability to do our jobs.


  • With that, I want to finish by saying that I am grateful for this opportunity to address you all. I know we will have future opportunities to engage on important matters, and I sincerely hope that we can continue to build out and refine this partnership on behalf of all the people who live and work in Department facilities. I am very excited about the work ahead, and I sincerely hope that you share in my excitement. Thank you.