Mayor de Blasio and his third Correction Commissioner find themselves in a unique position after nearly eight years in
which the department’s failures have overshadowed the successes. Although there’s been a reduction in the inmate
population and the use of punitive segregation, the overall safety in the jails has increased from 2013 and has gotten progressively worse each yearsince he’s been Mayor. Instead of focusing on reducing recidivism, producing rehabilitation and ending generational incarceration, de Blasio has been focused on building four new borough jails, and the shutdown of Rikers. He has paid lip service to the reduction of jail violence. His first Correction Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, wastasked with the elimination of punitive segregation under the guise of reform. 

The second, Cynthia Brann, was tasked with closing Rikers. Histhird commissioner, Vincent Schiraldi, has six months to reduce violence and bring reform. There are approximately 5,700 people in the city jails, with 78 housed in punitive segregation and 219 in alternative- to-punitive-segregation units. Thissmall number of incarcerated individuals, who are responsible for most of the violence in the jails, are known to all. Not all the violence in the jails is because of idleness. Much of it has to do with the business of the gangs in and out of the jails.

Schiraldi served as a senior adviser and was instrumental in implementing the Mayor’s criminal-justice reforms. The
coronavirus and changes in the law, as well as internal rules reduced the number of incarcerated individuals, but this
hasn’t reduced jail violence. The things street and jail crimes have in common are gangs, the mentally ill, the homeless and young adults. The last time the city jails experienced low numbers in violence, slashing and stabbings, and assaults against correction employees and other incarcerated individuals was in 2013. Will the new Commissioner recognize what insanity looks like and travel a new road to create safer jails?

In his first communication, Schiraldi said he would be based at RikersIsland “to be closer to the agency’s daily operations” and regularly walk through the jails“to see and hear from you firsthand how you think we can further improve conditions.” I’m sure he means well, but this is a corporate approach that was also taken by his predecessors. 

Here are two questions on everyone’s mind: When will the triple tours be resolved, and what is your plan to reduce violence? Don’t be afraid to use the words punitive, segregation and separation when addressing violent crimes committed behind bars. To critics who point out that he’s never run a jail system, he responded that he had never run a juvenile facility or probation department before doing so successfully in Washington, D.C. and New York. To that, Isay neither compares to running the largest penal system in the world. In his first month on the job, the violence continues to soar and  correction officers are still working 24-hour shifts.

Former President,
Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association