Report: NYCDOC fails to properly manage staff and how they respond to jail incidents

"The pervasive level of disorder and chaos in the facilities is alarming,” a new federal report says

By Chelsia Rose Marcius
New York Daily News
NEW YORK CITY — The city’s Correction Department has failed to properly manage how staffers are deployed and their response to crisis situations inside the jails, a new federal report says.

The agency also has “an unusually large number of staff working in the facilities despite some markers that could suggest understaffing,” states the 342-page report released Tuesday by a federal monitoring team tasked with jail oversight.

The red flags include high rates of overtime and uses of force among staffers as well as high incidents of violence, court-appointed federal monitor Steven Martin wrote in his 11th installment of what’s referred to as the Nunez Report — the result of the city’s settlement of a class-action lawsuit in 2015 over use of force in the jails.

In a June 20, 2014, photo, the Rikers Island jail complex stands in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background.
In a June 20, 2014, photo, the Rikers Island jail complex stands in New York with the Manhattan skyline in the background. (Photo/AP)

“The monitoring team remains very concerned about the overall state of reform within the department. While certain troubling use of force tactics have been curtailed ... the pervasive level of disorder and chaos in the facilities is alarming,” the report asserts.

“It is frustrating and disappointing that change has not yet been realized ...The type of change required will not occur by tinkering around the edges — a wholesale change in the way staff approach individuals in custody is needed.”

Kayla Simpson, staff lawyer at the Prisoners’ Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society, said the issues stem from a “deep, dysfunctional mismanagement by uniform leadership at the top of the agency and within the facilities themselves.”

“This is an overstaffed department that is operating like an understaffed department,” said Simpson. “It would be serious error for the city to increase a [staffing] ratio that already results in dangerous, persistent inefficiencies. The city must instead follow through on a full, independent staffing audit of the department, and then bring in new leadership at all levels to actually implement the recommendations of that audit.”

The report comes the same day Correction Department Commissioner Cynthia Brann announced her resignation, and amid concerns over uniformed staffers working triple shifts to make up for an average of around 1,200 people out sick daily — not including those absent for other reasons, including vacation and family leave.

It also comes hours after Board of Correction member Dr. Bobby Cohen blasted the agency, city officials and judges for what he described as a “management crisis” in the jails.

“I visited [the Eric M. Taylor Center on Rikers Island] a few weeks ago, and we found people [in custody] sleeping on the floor,” Cohen said Tuesday during a public board meeting, referring to his visit to investigate the death of an inmate.

“Today there were 5,672 people in the jails. One year ago, there were 3,880 people in the jails. This is a 46% increase in the population [and] that’s inconsistent with the notion that the department is working toward decreasing the population when it increases that almost 50% in one year,” he added, referring to when the inmate population dropped due to coronavirus-driven releases.

“If the mayor, who has been unwilling to carry out a decarceration plan ... and the department is unable to staff [the jails] and staff programs, then the city should let the judges know that it is not able to take people who they send to them. It is dangerous for the staff, and is dangerous to the people who are being incarcerated.”

Still, the federal monitor had kind words for the departing Brann.

“The Monitoring Team has worked with Commissioner Brann for almost the entire pendency of the Consent Judgment (and 4 years as Commissioner),” Martin wrote. “She has always been honest, transparent, and forthright with the Monitoring Team about the problems plaguing the Agency and open to developing and working on solutions to address various areas of concern.”

In a statement Tuesday night, Brann focused on the positives.

“We appreciate the monitor for acknowledging our ability to adapt in many areas and for noting the ‘major accomplishment’ of our Investigations Division in investigating and reviewing all Use of Force incidents in near real-time—an agency milestone,” Brann said.

©2021 New York Daily News.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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