New COs at Rikers Island, other NYC jails only need high school diplomas
Eliminating the post-high school education requirement was approved in an effort to grow the department’s applicant pool to counter a staffing decline
By Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — A high school diploma is enough education to become a New York City correction officer under new standards that will apply to the upcoming Correction Department academy class, multiple agency sources told the Daily News.
Word of the eased requirements was given to correction officer applicants in a recent email.
“You are no longer required to have 39 college credits to start the process,” the email said, reporting the new policy would begin with Exam 3317, which will be offered to applicants starting on May 24.
Correction Commissioner Louis Molina approved eliminating the post-high school education requirement in an effort to enlarge the department’s applicant pool to counter a staffing decline, said department sources. The change follows a related decision to cut academy time from six months down to three months.
The move disappointed City Council Member Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan), who chairs the Committee on Criminal Justice. She said Mayor Adams’ administration instead should be increasing standards for the job.
“The City should be hiring the most qualified people for this challenging and important job, and certainly should not be cutting corners on training,” she said. “Without the necessary investments to move towards closing Rikers on time, the Mayor will continue to jeopardize the safety of new recruits, veteran officers, and incarcerated New Yorkers.”
But the policy change has supporters among the unions representing correction officers at Rikers Island and other city jails.
“There are many young men and women that cannot afford to attend college. That should not disqualify them from working as uniform members of the department,” said Patrick Ferraiuolo, president of the Correction Captains Association.
“Before college credits were a mandatory requirement, the department had many members with high school diplomas that made excellent correctional officers.”
Benny Boscio, leader of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said a new recruitment approach is needed to deal with a correction officer shortage he blames on former mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. Boscio noted that no new officers were hired in 2020 or 2021.
“Our last class of only 86 officers — which was meant to fill 500 positions — is a perfect illustration of the urgent need to change course,” Boscio said. “We believe college credits should not be prioritized as much as having a demonstrable aptitude to provide care, custody, and control under enormous pressure.”
Correction officer candidates once needed 60 college credits — about equal to a two-year associates degree, and similar to the requirements to become an NYPD officer.
Subsequently, the Correction Department reduced the credit requirement to 39, with the remaining credits equivalent to an associates degree awarded automatically on graduation from the department’s academy.
As of April 18, there were 6,458 uniformed staff in the agency, including 5,776 correction officers, the comptroller’s office said. That is compared to 10,862 of all ranks in 2017.
As of Thursday, there were 5,974 detainees in the jails, compared to 9,500 in 2017.
The target for the 2023 recruit class now in the correction officer academy was 500. The department was only able to muster 89 candidates in the class, which is currently in the last weeks of training.
Mary Lynne Werlwas, director of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, said, “Regardless of the criteria for new recruits, DOC’s failure to provide competent mid-level management in the jail facilities will perpetuate the culture of violence and ineptitude.”
The staffing problems have also been driven by large numbers of officers out sick for extended periods, at times for questionable reasons. There are also questions about whether the Correction Department can move more officers from administrative roles into the jails.