Trending Topics

NYC Department of Corrections will no longer disclose inmate deaths in city jails

Under the now-rescinded practice, the DOC would release the name of any city inmate who died, along with basic details like date, time and place of death

Jail cell bars.jpg

Correction Commissioner Louis Molina’s announced his agency will no longer notify the public if an inmate dies in a city jail.


By Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News

NEW YORK CITY — Mayor Adams offered full-throated support Thursday for his embattled correction commissioner’s decision to not disclose deaths of inmates in city custody.

“I support him to do the job I hired him to do, and whatever methods he needs to do it within the boundaries of not violating any laws or rights of people, I support,” Adams said at a press conference in Brooklyn.

Adams spoke in response to a reporter’s question about whether he backs Correction Commissioner Louis Molina’s announcement Wednesday that his agency will no longer notify the public if an inmate dies in a city jail.

Under the now-rescinded practice implemented during ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, the Department of Correction issued a press release with the name of any city inmate who died behind bars, along with basic details like date, time and place of death.

Mary Lynne Werlwas, director of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, hinted her group may seek court intervention over the undoing of the practice. “That is flatly wrong on the law,” she said, “and we would be happy to address it in court.”

Manhattan Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, a Democrat who heads the Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, said she’s also “prepared to take legislative action if necessary” to compel the Department of Correction to report in-custody deaths.

The transparency rollback came after Steve Martin, a court-appointed federal monitor of violence in the city’s jail system, released a report Friday revealing apparent attempts by Molina’s agency to cover up five serious incidents on Rikers Island last month — including a suicide and a beating that left a man paralyzed.

Martin, a city jails watchdog for years, revealed in a subsequent court filing that an inmate in one of those incidents, Joshua Valles, died Monday after he was hospitalized complaining of “headaches.” Valles was in a coma for nine days, and an autopsy determined his cause of death was a skull fracture.

It’s unclear how the skull fracture happened, but the autopsy results appeared to contradict claims made by top Department of Correction brass, including Molina, who had told the monitor that Valles, 31, suffered “a heart attack” and that his coma was not suspected to be the result of “foul play.”

Asked at his Brooklyn news conference about Martin’s findings, Adams questioned the monitor’s integrity.

“[Molina] did not violate any of the rules on what he was supposed to report on, not one item, not one, but if you would have read the report, you would have thought just the opposite, so I think there’s something else going on with this relationship that we’re having,” Adams said. “I have been extremely restrained, but that level of patience is running out.”

The mayor did not elaborate on what he meant by “something else,” but said he plans to soon issue a formal response to Martin’s report.

“I’m going to respond to what I believe is happening with how this oversight is taking place,” he said.

Anna Friedberg, Martin’s deputy monitor, declined to comment on Adams’ jabs, saying her team “is not at liberty to make public statements” outside of court.

A 2015 court settlement on dangerous conditions on Rikers requires Molina’s agency to immediately alert Martin of violent incidents in city jails. In last week’s report, Martin wrote he found out about several of the incidents it discussed from media reports instead of the Department of Correction.

Molina has denied that he is required to report detainee deaths to the monitor. But Martin and his staff, appointed by the judge handling what is known as the Nunez case, say that Molina’s “assertion is inaccurate.”

Martin and his team cited a number of court orders saying the Correction Department is required to provide such disclosures. “[T]he monitoring team is entitled to access such information to ‘perform [their] responsibilities,’” Martin says.

The Department of Correction’s transparency rollback has prompted progressive politicians and inmate advocates to renew calls for Rikers to be placed under a federal receivership until 2027, when the jails on the island are by law supposed to shut down.

“DOC leadership apparently doesn’t care about the humanity of the people in its custody enough to even report honestly when they die,” said Comptroller Brad Lander, whose office on Thursday updated its tracker on Rikers deaths to say “unknown” in light of the policy shift.

“The appointment of a federal receiver to operate Rikers is a moral and operational necessity to confront the jail system’s utter disregard for transparency and accountability,” Lander said.

The latest uproar comes after 19 inmates died in city jails in 2022, most of them at Rikers, making it the deadliest year in decades.

Lezandra Khadu, the mother of Stephen Khadu, a 24-year-old inmate who died at Rikers in April 2022 from meningitis, confronted Adams at an event in Brooklyn earlier this week to ask him if he had an update on what’s going on with a city investigation into her son’s death.

“He said he doesn’t know who my son is,” Khadu said, speaking to the Daily News after the exchange with the mayor. “That’s baffling to me because that means you don’t care.”

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