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Union wants investigators to substantiate contraband claims

Mail, not COs, is the “major source” of contraband smuggled into New York Department of Correction jails

Rikers Island

Complaints of contraband in New York City jails increased in 2022, but most of those complaints are unsubstantiated.

Photo/Theodore Parisienne via TNS

By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — Complaints of contraband in New York City jails city including drugs and weapons soared in 2022 — and many of the illicit items were smuggled in by Correction Department staff, according to a city agency.

The Department of Investigation (DOI) received 487 contraband complaints in 2022 at Rikers Island and other city jails, compared with 288 in 2021 — a 69% surge.

“The vast majority of complaints received concerning contraband, and the vast majority of DOI investigations, involve DOC [Department of Correction] staff, usually correction officers,” said Department of Investigation spokeswoman Diane Struzzi.

But substantiating complaints is a slow process.

So far, just two of the cases reported in 2022 have been substantiated, DOI said. And of the 288 complaints in 2021, 14 have been substantiated.

Benny Boscio, the leader of the city correction officers’ union, said he believes contraband smuggling has actually decreased, citing the few substantiated cases.

“Manipulating the number of complaints made against our officers is disingenuous because they include complaints ultimately proven to be frivolous or unfounded, which in fact are the majority of complaints,” Boscio said, “Some will stop at nothing to malign our reputation.”

The Correction Department took a similar view, noting in a statement that in 2022 “less than one-half of one percent of complaints were actually found to be substantiated.”

But the number of complaints officially found unsubstantiated is also a fraction of the total.

Just six of the total of last year’s contraband complaints have been ruled unsubstantiated and just 17 of the complaints from the year before.

When there is more than one complaint against an officer only the most egregious one may be selected for immediate investigation. And there are investigations that can take more than a year or two to develop and so remain pending and undecided.

Investigators routinely file away complaints they keep open in hope of gathering more information before they can be fully assessed, DOI officials said.

Investigations also may be curtailed because a key jail informant has been released or transferred to state prison and no longer is able to assist.

Department of Investigation probes have led to the arrests of 25 correction officers since 2017, the agency said. Other substantiated probes, where lesser wrongdoing or systemic problems are found, go back to the Correction Department for internal review.

With at least nine fatal overdoses in 2021 and 2022 combined, including four involving fentanyl and heroin, the issue of how drugs have been getting into the jails has been the subject of intense debate.

Correction Commissioner Louis Molina and the correction unions insist the majority of drug contraband comes in through the mail. A Correction Department spokesman last week called mail a “major source” of contraband.

Molina cited that view when he put in motion a plan to bar handwritten letters from the jails in favor of mail that is scanned and sent electronically. He also wants to allow only packages from third-party vendors.

But members of the City Council and advocacy groups have been skeptical of Molina’s claim that the mail is to blame for contraband. They say the Correction Department’s email plan is an unnecessary invasion of privacy and that the quality of the scanned letters and documents will be poor.

Councilwoman Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan) said the Correction Department has been fighting the Council’s requests for data on sources of contraband, including how much comes in through staff and how much through the mail.

“We have asked them to back up their claims with data, but it’s been incredibly difficult to work with DOC,” said Rivera.

©2023 New York Daily News.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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