Testimony before the
New York City Council
Committee on Criminal Justice
Chair Carlina Rivera
Louis A. Molina, Commissioner
NYC Department of Correction
December 13, 2022
Good afternoon, Chair Rivera, and members of the Committee on Criminal Justice. I am Louis Molina, Commissioner of the Department of Correction. I am joined today by the Department’s General Counsel, Paul Shechtman. Thank you for the opportunity to share the progress that the Department has made under the Action Plan, which was developed with the Federal Monitor.
As you undoubtedly know, on June 14, 2022, the federal court in the Nunez litigation ordered the City to adopt and comply with an Action Plan that had been negotiated with the Federal Monitor and the parties in that litigation. The Action Plan is just what its name suggests: a catalogue of significant remedial actions that the City, and in particular the Department of Correction, should take to ensure that individuals in the Department’s custody, as well as our staff, have a safe and humane environment.
Most recently, on November 17th, the City and the Department appeared before the federal court, Judge Laura Swain, for a status conference with respect to progress on the Action Plan. At the conference, the plaintiffs’ counsel, but not the U.S. Attorney’s Office, asked Judge Swain for permission to file a motion for the Court to impose a federal receivership. The judge denied the request. In doing so, she recognized that while much work remains to be done to improve conditions on Rikers Island, the Department has demonstrated that meaningful progress has been made and has shown its commitment to reform. We next return to court on April 27th. At that time, I have every intention of presenting a picture of continued progress toward undoing the years of mismanagement and neglect that have made an Action Plan necessary.
Let me now tell you some of the things that have been accomplished:
- Earlier this year, we implemented a Violence Reduction Plan at the Robert N. Davoren Center, where we house individuals under the age of 22. We blended gangs in housing units, expanded searches for weapons and other contraband, added staff, and increased and enhanced programming. The results have been dramatic. Slashings and stabbings at the facility have decreased 85 percent comparing November 2021 to November 2022. This past month, there were only three such incidents at the facility. We are expanding our Violence Reduction Plan to other facilities, starting with the George R. Vierno Center, which houses our most violent-prone individuals. It is still a work in progress, but one we are committed to.
- In consultation with the Monitoring Team, we are working to design and implement a restrictive housing plan to manage incarcerated individuals who have engaged in serious acts of violence and pose a heightened security risk to the safety of other persons in custody and to staff. As I have testified before, the response cannot be solitary confinement. That is illegal and inhumane. However, there must be some consequences when an individual seriously harms another individual or a staff member. You have likely read recent newspaper accounts of an incident in which an officer was stabbed at least 15 times in the back of his head, and another incident in which an officer was punched during a search operation for contraband, resulting in lacerations to his head. Perpetrators of such violence, whether on staff or other incarcerated individuals, cannot be allowed to remain in general population in the aftermath of such incidents.
- Between January and November, conducted 79 tactical search operations (TSOs) and recovered roughly 1,500 weapons. TSOs are a basic and sound correctional practice, which the Department had all but abandoned before I became Commissioner. Only by conducting regular and thorough searches can we keep our jails safe.
- In addition, more than 700 new state-of-the-art cell doors have been installed. Once closed and locked, the doors cannot be easily manipulated. The fact that we had cell doors that could easily be manipulated is clear evidence of the neglect that long existed on the Island.
- In recent months, the Department has appointed more than 30 new leaders, many from outside the City of New York, bringing diverse perspectives from all over the country. That includes a Senior Deputy Commissioner, 10 Deputy Commissioners and 6 Associate Commissioners. Many of these men and women have broad experience in corrections and law enforcement. They bring new vision and fresh ideas to the Department. Let me highlight just one those new leaders. In October, Joseph Dempsey joined us as Senior Deputy Commissioner of Operations. SDC Dempsey comes to us with more than three decades of experience with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, where he oversaw 3 jail facilities and 2,500 employees. He exemplifies the type of people we are bringing on to support our new initiatives.
- We have recently received authorization from Judge Swain to hire candidates from outside the Department’s rank and file to manage our facilities. The Monitor recommended this approach, and we are now moving forward on it. I want to make clear that seeking outside candidates does not lessen my appreciation for our current Wardens and Acting Wardens or diminish my respect for the hard work that they have done. But this authorization allows me more flexibility in hiring and can only make us better.
- We have taken measures to return officers from sick leave to facility posts and to promote staff accountability. When I came into office just 11 months ago, the average daily sick percentage was 26.1 percent. Through our relentless efforts to bring our workforce back to the facilities, we have been able to reduce that number down to only 11.8 percent, and we aren’t stopping there. The average daily MMR3 percentage – those staff who are unable to interact with incarcerated individuals – has declined more than 20 percent. This is a clear indication that the measures we have adopted are having their desired effect.
- We have also imposed discipline where it has been warranted. Almost 500 staff have been suspended this year, which far surpasses the number for the prior two calendar years, and 180 staff have been terminated. And we are significantly reducing the backlog of disciplinary cases.
This is just some of what has been accomplished. Let me be clear, we have much more to do, and we will do it. A federal receiver is not the answer. The answer is strong City leadership and unwavering commitment to reform. I am immensely proud of the men and women who come to work everyday for the Department of Correction, in what is undoubtedly the most demanding job in City service. We are the Boldest. We want safe and humane facilities for our City and have taken substantial steps towards getting there. I am pleased to answer your questions.