Commissioner’s Opening Remarks
Board of Correction Public Meeting
Louis Molina, Commissioner
June 14, 2022
Good morning members of the Board. I’m happy to be meeting with you all today. A lot has happened over the last almost six months and I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on where we are and what lies ahead.
The City & Department’s Action Plan
Last week, the Federal Monitor filed an updated Action Plan for the City and the Department to address the decades of mismanagement that have brought us here today. I want to emphasize, as the Monitor did, that the conditions in the jails today are deep-seated and are not only the result of failures within the Department. The failure of our jails represents the failure of a whole system; accordingly, it will take a concerted effort to move us forward. The Board of Correction’s partnership will be critical to implementing this plan and other strategic initiatives as the Department continues down the road towards reform and renewal, despite the real challenges that lay ahead of us.
As I stated in my testimony during the Department’s Fiscal Year 2023 Executive Budget, I am in agreement with the plan, as it supports my vision for the Department. I am focused on creating a culture of discipline and service to persons experiencing incarceration that will ultimately lead to safer and more humane jails. Ultimately, my vision is of a jail system that serves the public interest and has earned the public’s trust. I know that is no easy task, but I believe the work we have undertaken in just six months is proof of concept that will serve as a foundation for the many successes ahead of us.
Accountability & Safety
In my first six months as Commissioner, I have taken thoughtful and effective steps to create the agency I envision. At the end of February, just two months into my tenure, I instituted a strategic violence reduction plan at the Robert N. Davoren Center (RNDC) to address the heightened levels of violence at that facility. This plan takes a holistic, multipronged approach to address the complex issues that have contributed to increased violence and disorder within the facility. I knew that if we could get it right at RNDC, with arguably one of the most difficult populations to manage, then we could replicate success across the Department.
This plan implemented changes to housing policies, improvements to staff supervision and accountability, and enhanced programming and services to provide critical opportunities for behavioral change and growth for young adults. The plan ended the misguided practice of concentrating gang affiliations in housing areas at RNDC, which allowed people in custody to overpower our staff and led to an atmosphere of violence and fear.
We have also strategically increased facility searches and tactical search operations at RNDC and throughout the Department, a practice that was largely abandoned during the pandemic. These searches have resulted in the recovery of over 700 contraband weapons from RNDC alone, and over 2,200 across all facilities. The number of slashings and stabbings at RNDC decreased by nearly 80 percent in May as compared to March of this year, when we instituted this strategic violence reduction plan, and decreased by 63 percent Department-wide when you compare our numbers in May to March of this year.
In his May 17th filing, the Federal Monitor noted the effectiveness of this plan at “reducing the level of fear among staff and people in custody.” Because of its success, we are beginning to implement a similar and like strategy out at other facilities, including GRVC and AMKC, with the anticipation of similar results.
In just six months, these actions and others have resulted in a decrease in several major violence indicators calendar year to date Department-wide: assaults on staff have decreased approximately 30 percent, use of force has decreased by 27 percent, and in May 2022 vs. May 2021 slashings and stabbings Department-wide are down 44 percent and as of yesterday month-to-date in June 2022 versus month-to-date in June 2021 we are currently experiencing a 21 percent decrease of slashing and stabbings Department wide.
I recognize the frequency of assaults, use of force incidents and slashings and stabbings are still too high but, fortunately, the trends are moving in a downward direction, which I am intensely focused on sustaining.
Of course, our facilities do not exist in a vacuum; they operate within the broader context and culture of the entire agency. Implementing best-practices and sustaining positive trends cannot occur without well-trained staff to perform their duties, along with a timely and meaningful discipline process for those who do not or cannot perform those duties.
Since taking office, I have been laser focused on returning staff to the facilities and creating leadership structures to support our workforce and address our deeply entrenched organizational health issues.
The number of unavailable staff continues to drop and has been reduced by nearly 40 percent since the beginning of the staffing crisis that began in the summer of 2021. To ensure our staff return to full duty, we are revamping our Health Management Division, which is responsible for overseeing and supporting uniform staff who are out sick. New leadership has already been appointed, and we are reviewing and revising critical leave policies that have allowed abuse to fester and lead to the crisis that emerged over the course of the pandemic. I look forward to sharing updates on these efforts with the Board once they have been finalized in consultation with the Monitoring team.
In conjunction with efforts to engage staff who are out sick and support them in returning to duty, we have been taking a close look at those members who appear unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligation to this agency and this city.
In order for the Department of Correction to succeed, it is imperative that expectations for staff conduct are clearly communicated and that the consequences for violations and failures to fulfill duty are swift. To date, almost 100 staff members have been suspended this year for sick leave abuse, and some of those members have been referred to the Department of Investigation for further review.
At least 150 medical incompetence cases have been referred for discipline, which is almost the same number of cases referred for discipline in the entirety of 2021. We intend to expedite the processing of more egregious cases to demonstrate unequivocally that these abuses will no longer stand. I believe these initial steps have put us on a path toward improved practices and greater accountability, and I look forward to sharing more progress with the Board in the future.
I am confident that my vision for this agency is achievable. I knew full well the challenges that lay ahead when I accepted this position, and I have approached each new challenge with renewed commitment. Likewise, the majority of uniform staff have stayed in this fight and came to work during the height of the pandemic to serve people in custody and continue to do so today. In the past six months, several passionate and committed men and women have joined my leadership team in the fight to reform our jails, with more to follow. And members of this Board have dedicated years of their life to serving this Department, through all of its highs and lows. I believe in this work and I know that members of this Board do as well. I hope our shared commitment will drive us forward, together.
We must have more than shared interest; we must be allies in this work if we are to succeed in reforming the Department and prepared to pivot together when initiatives and other programs do not workout as intended.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My colleagues, and I are available to answer any questions that you may have.