DOC Celebrates 125th Anniversary
New York, NY – As New Yorkers ring in a long-anticipated New Year, the NYC Department of Correction is celebrating an important anniversary: 125 years as a city agency.
In tribute to the milestone, on January 4th the Empire State Building lit up with the DOC’s blue and orange colors.
“We are grateful to the Empire State Building team for recognizing the importance of our history and our work, and for honoring the city’s correctional workers with such a fantastic display,” said DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann. “People who work in corrections are dedicated professionals driven by a desire to help people, and they too often go unrecognized. There is no affirmation quite like seeing New York’s most famous building lit up in respect.”
It was on January 1st, 1896 that the Department of Correction began its first day of operations as an independent city agency. Six months earlier, New York’s Governor Levi Morton signed legislation splitting the Department of Public Charities and Correction into separate agencies. Charities had jurisdiction over the City's hospitals and almshouses, and DOC would manage the City's penal institutions, including the Penitentiary and Workhouse on Blackwell's Island (now called Roosevelt Island); City Prison, Manhattan (Tombs); five District Prisons and the City cemetery (Potter's Field) on Hart Island.
Robert J. Wright, appointed by Mayor William Lafayette Strong, served as the first Correction Commissioner. The initial census of people in custody at DOC was 2,650 (today, there are just over 5,000).
Throughout its history, the agency has been a leader in reform and advancing best correctional practices. Here are just a few highlights from a very rich past:
1914: Katharine Bement Davis becomes the first female Commissioner of a major NYC municipal agency. (At the time, women didn’t have the right to vote in all US states!)
1927: DOC is the first jail system in the Untied States to establish a Correction Officer training school.
1932: The agency’s main base of operations becomes Rikers Island, which the City had purchased in 1884 for $180,000.
1954: Anna M. Kross becomes the second female (and longest serving) commissioner in DOC history. She vastly expands psychological services and addiction treatment for people in custody.
1987: Rikers Island opens one of the nation’s first methadone treatment programs for people in custody.2001: DOC becomes one of the main agencies responsible for 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts, with more than 1000 responders working at Ground Zero, the temporary morgue at Bellevue Hospital, and Fresh Kills Landfill.
Today, the Department continues its tradition of reform, re-examining the relationship between itself, people in custody, and the community in which we all live. Among the Department’s recent advances:
The Department is now in the process of implementing a borough-based jails plan that will see Rikers Island facilities close and be replaced with four new, modern jails in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.
“This is a historic pivot point, just like 125 years ago,” said Department of Correction Historian Thomas McCarthy, who added that the creation of the department originated in reforms.
The New York City Department of Correction (DOC) provides for the care and custody of people accused of crimes or convicted and sentenced to one year or less of jail time. The Department manages 10 facilities, 8 of which are located on Rikers Island. In addition, the Department operates two hospital wards (Bellevue and Elmhurst hospitals) and court facilities in each borough. Our dedicated workforce of both uniformed and non-uniformed staff members represents the city’s BOLDEST.