Testimony before the
New York City Council
Committee on Criminal Justice
Keith Powers, Chairperson
By Cynthia Brann, Commissioner
NYC Department of Correction
March 14, 2019
Good Morning, Chair Powers and members of the Committee on Criminal Justice. I am Cynthia Brann, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). Joining me at the table this morning are members from my leadership team who will assist with answering questions today: First Deputy Commissioner Angel Villalona, Chief of the Department Hazel Jennings, Acting Deputy Commissioner Patricia Lyons, and Acting Associate Commissioner Joseph Antonelli. I am pleased to join you this morning to discuss the Department’s FY20 preliminary expense plan, the capital commitment plan, and the FY19 PMMR. I thank you for affording me this opportunity to describe my vision for the Department, discuss our goals and various challenges, and share with you some of the good work we have done over the past fiscal year.
As you all know, DOC is a vast, complex organization, more in the public eye now than ever before – which is quite the change from just six years ago before this Administration took over. We have more than 12,000 members of staff and process more than 45,000 admissions every year. We currently operate eleven separate jail facilities, on and off Rikers, as well as two hospital prison wards and court facilities in each borough. In addition, we operate support service divisions including our transportation division and facility maintenance division. Our staff are responsible for the care, custody, and control of approximately 7,900 - 8,000 individuals every day. While jail and prison populations around the country increased, New York City’s jail population has fallen by half since 1990. New York City’s jail population is now approximately 1,000 lower than at this time last year, which is a decrease of 11.5% - giving us the lowest incarceration rate of any big city and the steepest four-year decline in the jail population since 1998.
We recognize that those in our custody have unique needs and challenges, which we strive to meet every day. Even before realizing the significant reduction in population, we took a conscious effort to move away from a one-size-fits-all model and specifically looked at how we could provide more tailored management – a combination of both security and care – to smaller sub-populations that all have different needs. We are responding to the lowering population by identifying means to better serve unique populations. We have vastly increased programming, services, training, and tools, all while changing our custody management models.
Since I last testified before this body one year ago, the Department has made significant and impactful changes. We modernized our bail process by implementing online bail and are working directly with public defenders to improve the bail process. The Department now has bail facilitators and bail kiosks in courts in all five boroughs so that anyone eligible to pay their bail online can do so without having to enter the Department’s custody first. The Department is continuing to make progress in caring for special populations. This year, the Department opened a transgender housing unit at the Rose M. Singer Center to more appropriately meet the needs of our transgender population. In October, we moved our adolescents from Rikers Island to the Horizon Juvenile Center in the Bronx. Despite a tough first month, the Horizon Juvenile Center has made tremendous strides and I am proud of the dedication and efforts by my staff, in coordination with ACS, to apply new training techniques in challenging situations to create a culture of safety at that facility.
We have continued our commitment to the reduction of the use of punitive segregation for adults ages 22 and older, focusing specifically on violent infractions and sentence durations that are directly proportional to the specific act committed. Since 2015, the Department’s use of punitive segregation has declined by 77%, with punitive segregation only used as a last resort. At the same time, the Department has worked collaboratively with the Board of Correction to develop and refine alternative housing options in order to safely house a limited number of violent young adults in both a structured and secure setting that manages their contact with other inmates and staff, but also provides for the delivery of enhanced programming that focuses on facilitating rehabilitation, addressing the core causes of violence, and minimizing idleness. Eliminating the use of punitive segregation for young adults ages 18-21 was a dramatic change in policy and did not happen overnight. It has taken a lot of training and readjusting for staff to reach a level of confidence and comfort that this can work. Over the past year, through consistent hard work, adherence to program fidelity, and the establishment of an operational structure that is embedded within the agency and that has the full support of staff, the Department has seen significant progress in our limited use of these alternative housing options.
The Department is committed to lasting culture change and shares the City’s goal of smaller, safer, and fairer justice system. For the Department, closing Rikers is an opportunity to build new, modern jails, which we need. DOC’s facilities are old and outdated. They have antiquated designs that do not align with modern correctional best practices and require ongoing and significant capital investment in order to maintain them in a state of good repair. Modern jails are designed to improve safety but also fundamentally integrate services and programs to give staff and people in our custody the best opportunities to succeed. The Department is proud to partner with city agencies, criminal justice policy experts, and passionate community voices to profoundly reshape and reimagine correctional services in New York City. In the past year, Department staff have attended hearings and community meetings to answer New Yorkers’ questions about the borough-based jail plan and listened to their concerns surrounding jail facilities in their communities. The Department is committed to being a good neighbor and I am proud that these conversations have led to some positive immediate changes, including a community beautification effort outside of the Manhattan Detention Center.
Looking ahead, my goal is to make our Department a national leader in corrections and establish procedures for long-term success. My vision is clear:
- Maintain safety and security in DOC facilities – If staff and individuals in our custody are not safe, then no other policies or reform matters;
- Investment in our uniform and non-uniform staff that gives them better tools to work with the population under their care;
- Enhance and strengthen programming – This will improve the Department’s ability to meet individuals’ critically important educational, vocational, and therapeutic needs while in custody;
- Move the population off Riker’s Island; and
- Ensure that the individuals in our custody are better prepared to contribute to their communities on their way out of custody than they were when they entered.
Update on Reforms
The Department is dedicated to operating a system that is safe, humane, and produces positive outcomes for those in our custody. We are committed to managing our incarcerated population in a way that addresses individual needs, the foremost of this being personal safety. First we have eliminated the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) backlog and successfully met our hiring targets to expand the PREA investigations team. In addition, the Department continues to meet its mandate to investigate all sexual assault allegations within 72 hours and ensure that we separate any individuals who should not be together. Further, PREA investigators now have dedicated spaces that enable them to speak with witnesses and victims in private spaces and all PREA investigators have recently received the Department of Justice’s training on investigating sexual abuse in confined spaces. Sexual abuse in a jail setting is completely unacceptable and I am proud of this Department’s efforts to uphold the PREA mandate.
Over the past fiscal year, the Department continued to work closely with reentry providers to improve the visitor experience and encourage visits between children and their mothers. Sadly, women held in the Rose M. Singer Center receive fewer visitors than any other facility in the Department’s jurisdiction. The Department has undertaken several steps to combat obstacles to visitation faced by children and families. We have instituted a free shuttle bus service in both Central Brooklyn and Harlem that provides hourly transportation to and from Rikers Island. The bus has been extremely successful. Between April 2018 and December 2018, there were over 32,000 free rides taken on the visitor shuttle bus. In addition, we have created expedited visit times for visitors and have partnered with ACS to offer Saturday visit hours for children in foster care. The Department also hired greeters for our central visit house and is investing in customer training programs for all visitor staff. Furthermore, the Department is partnering with the Children’s Museum of Manhattan to provide off-island visits for incarcerated mothers with at least one child under the age of sixteen. The Department remains committed to providing gender-responsive services to the women in our custody and recently hired an Executive Director of Women’s Initiatives to support these important efforts. The Department also recognizes the need to support the LGBTQI population within our care and is hiring a Director to focus on the needs and services for that community as well.
In recent years, with support from this Committee, the City Council, and the Mayor, the Department has made significant advances in growing its network of program providers, its range of program offerings, and its responsivity to the distinct needs of different populations.
As a component of the Department’s commitment to housing young adults in young adult specific housing whenever possible, we strive to provide education and programming services consistent with young adults’ development and needs. It is our job to ensure that people are better prepared to contribute to their communities on their way out of custody than they were when they came in. The Department is dedicated to a programming vision that promotes prosocial behavior and provides individual services targeted to specific needs.
In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, we facilitate several reentry initiatives that provide pathways following incarceration. As noted in the FY19 PMMR, the Department saw increased enrollments in the Individualized Corrections Achievement Network (I-CAN) program, which provides comprehensive re-entry services, including job readiness, hard-skills training, and post-release employment assistance to those in our custody. From July to October 2018, the number of I-CAN enrollments increased 25.1 percent from 2,335 to 2,922 while the number of I-CAN workshops offered increased 68.8 percent from 4,902 to 8,273. The Department remains committed to ending the cycle of incarceration and looks forward to working the Council in the coming year to enhance its efforts to reduce recidivism in New York City.
Protecting the wellbeing and safety of everyone who stays and works in our facilities is the Department’s primary goal. We recognize that violence remains a concern and do not deny our obligation to address these issues. While there is still work to be done, I remain proud of our officers’ efforts to reduce violence despite an increasingly challenging population. As per the PMMR, from July through October of 2018, compared to the same period in 2017, the percentage of inmates in a Security Risk Group (gang affiliation) increased from 15% to 16%; the percentage inmates with serious mental health diagnosis increased to 17%; and there was a 25% increase in the number of inmate assaults on staff. While the rate of use of force increased overall, the rate of use of force resulting in any serious injury declined during this PMMR period.
The Department is dedicating to finding and removing dangerous contraband. Total searches increased 14% from the last PMMR period, while weapons recovered decreased by 20%. Given that the total number of weapons recovered has increased 156% from 2008-2018, even with a rapidly declining population, we take this recent drop in recovered weapons to mean would be smugglers are getting the message: if you attempt to bring weapons into the facility, you will be caught. As noted in the FY19 PMMR, the number of stabbings and slashings between July 2018 and October 2018 declined by 22%. This is no small achievement; although we have seen an overall reduction in population, the Department is concurrently experiencing a concentrated rise in violent offenders. Despite the challenges faced, our officers remain dedicated to maintaining a safe environment in every jail facility and I thank them for their efforts. Officers who work in our jails not only need but must have confidence that this administration can keep them safe in return. In the coming weeks, the Department will be taking further steps to prevent weapons from entering the facility through the use of ionizing body scanners that will assist in recovering non-metallic weapons and blades.
The PMMR also highlights areas where we must improve. During the reporting period, inmate fights/assaults increased by 11.4 percent and the overall rate of incidents involving uses of force increased by 31 percent. Force by DOC officers defines a broad range of actions that are not necessarily violent. In fact, our internal audits show that our officers are often using force to rescue detainees who have been injured by another detainee. We take these increases seriously, and we know that we have a lot of improvement to do in this area. Reducing uses of force remains a challenge, but we are committed to taking a holistic approach to force and violence reduction. Moving forward, we will continue to work with the Nunez monitor team to address the root causes of violent incidents and reduce unnecessary force within our facilities.
We could not talk about our violence reduction efforts without highlighting the good work of the Department’s Correction Intelligence Bureau (CIB). Located in the NY/NJ High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Fusion Center on Rikers Island, CIB works alongside law enforcement professionals from local, state, and federal agencies to monitor groups with gang affiliations, intercept contraband, and disrupt smuggling networks. In 2018 alone, CIB prevented over 100 acts of violence and provided information that led to the discovery of nearly 200 items of contraband. Information initially uncovered by CIB led to a coordinated, interagency takedown of 29 individuals both inside the jail and in the community who were engaged in a coordinated criminal enterprise. CIB’s efforts led to the successful breakup of a ring of individuals who planned to smuggle weapons and drugs onto Rikers Island and prevented a murder in the community of the Bronx. I remain thankful to CIB for their work and am grateful to our partners in law enforcement for their partnership in addressing any attempt to compromise the safety of New York City’s jails and in the community at large.
Training is at the very heart of our efforts to maintain safer, fairer jail facilities. The Department has recently reimagined the structure of its training and development programs, consolidating officer training, leadership and professional development, and volunteer services training under one umbrella. Going forward, anyone entering our facilities will receive a uniform message on safety, on procedure, and on my expectations for a culture of mutual respect between everyone working and living in the facilities. The closure of the George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC) has allowed the Department to reimagine this space for a number of staff related services, including providing some training courses for officers directly on the island and scenario-based training within a genuine jail setting. GMDC will also soon be the home of our new staff wellness center, which will offer a range of opportunities for physical wellness and stress reduction, all of which will support our officers in their work within the facilities.
The Department continues to refine its training courses and tailors trainings to the care of specific populations. For example, officers located in mental health observation units receive crisis intervention and mental health first aid training whereas officers located in young adult housing units receive training in conflict resolution and motivational interviewing. Regardless of their post, our goal is to ensure all of our officers are equipped with tools to properly respond to violence and disruption with the most appropriate tools. By incorporating on-the-job training and simulation components early in the academy curriculum, cadets will have a better understanding of their fit in the Department and be more likely to develop successful careers at the Department. To that end, for the past nine months we have been operating a Mentorship program. Mentor Captains are outstanding, specially trained staff who serve as the primary support for probationary officers by coaching, counseling and nurturing their targeted growth needs. They serve as an additional resource for staff, who may seek support outside of their supervising captain. In December 2018, the program was expanded to thirteen Mentor Captains across both daytime tours.
Fiscal Year 2020 Preliminary Budget and Its Impact on DOC
The Department’s Fiscal Year 2020 Expense Budget is $1.41 billion. The vast majority of this, 88%, is allocated for Personnel Services, and 12% for Other than Personnel Services. The Fiscal Year 2020 budget is $27 million more than this year’s budget of $1.38 billion. This increase is mainly due to one-time Personnel Services accruals taken as part of a prior financial plan that only impacted Fiscal Year 2019.
Included in the Preliminary Budget are decreases of $5 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and $12 million in Fiscal Year 2020 and the out years.
The following are some highlights of the major programs that were included in the budget:
• Uniformed Position Reduction – Additional savings from the closure of GMDC: 179 uniformed positions in Fiscal Year 2020 and the out years; $7 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and $14.1 million in Fiscal Year 2020 and the out years. At the time of the GMDC closure last year, it was assumed these positions would be needed to manage the Young Adult population. However, now that the Young Adult population has been fully relocated out of GMDC, it is recognized that these remaining positions are no longer required. The reduction in headcount was achieved through decreasing the size of the Correction Officer class that entered the Academy in February, meaning no Correction Officers have, or will, lose their jobs as a result of this savings.
• Various Collective Bargaining Increases – $1.2 million in Fiscal Year 2019, $1.9 million in Fiscal Year 2020, and $2.1 million in Fiscal Year 2021 and the out years.
With regard to capital funding, the Fiscal Year 2020 Preliminary Capital Budget and Commitment Plan totals $2.4 billion, which covers Fiscal Years 2019 through 2029. In this Plan, no additional funding was added to the Department’s Capital Budget.
During the past five years, the Department has been able to achieve unprecedented levels of Correction Officer recruitment and hiring. The Department has hired over 6,500 new Correction Officers since May 2014. These new Correction Officers have enabled us to enact the reforms necessary to provide a safer and better environment for the people housed in our facilities, as well as our staff. With the graduation of our last Academy class in December 2018, Fiscal Year 2019 will be the first year we will be fully staffed in our jails for the entire fiscal year since our reform agenda began in 2015, which has led to further overtime reductions and more efficient use of our resources. In addition, over the past few years, we have been able to reduce uniformed overtime spending from $240.4 million in Fiscal Year 2017 to $198.1 million in Fiscal Year 2018. Through January 31, Fiscal Year 2019 uniformed overtime spending has totaled $89.3 million, which is down 28% from $124.3 million for the same period last year in Fiscal Year 2018.
The following is a summary of the changes to the Department’s civilian and uniformed authorized staffing levels included in the Preliminary Plan:
• The civilian authorized full-time headcount is 2,274 in Fiscal Year 2019 and 2,043 in Fiscal Year 2020 and the out-years. The authorized headcount decrease from Fiscal Year 2019 to Fiscal Year 2020 is mainly due to a savings initiative taken in the Fiscal Year 2020 November Plan that will not begin until Fiscal Year 2020.
• The uniformed authorized headcount is 10,226 in Fiscal Year 2019, 10,063 in Fiscal Year 2020, and Fiscal Year 2021 and 9,904 in Fiscal Year 2022, Fiscal Year 2023 and the out years. The authorized uniformed headcount decreases from Fiscal Year 2019 to Fiscal Year 2020 due to the additional headcount reductions from the closure of GMDC, which takes effect in Fiscal Year 2020, and the expiration of staffing funded for the Horizon Detention Facility, which takes effect in Fiscal Year 2022. The average uniformed headcount is estimated to be 10,542 in Fiscal Year 2019, which represents a decrease of 170 compared to an average of 10,712 in Fiscal Year 2018.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today and for your continued support. Without the Mayor and Council’s vision for Criminal Justice Reform, we would not be able to talk about the many reforms we have undertaken. I look forward to working with you all in the years to come. My colleagues and I are available to answer any questions that you may have.