Civilianization at City Correction Department Stalls Despite New Vows
It’s been slow going so far for a plan that a judge will assess in November while deciding whether or not to take away control of the city’s jails.
In June, Department of Correction Commissioner Louis Molina submitted an “action plan” to the federal judge overseeing the troubled city agency with a key proposal to hire additional civilian staffers to do paperwork so officers can return to guarding detainees.
Molina’s reform roadmap promised that within 30 days the department would “launch a new, full scale recruitment campaign” focused in part on hiring “staff to backfill civilian roles previously held by uniform staff.”
Molina and his team, though, haven’t hired a single new civilian employee or detailed any jobs that are available since the action plan was submitted in Manhattan federal court on June 14, according to multiple correction sources and city records.
At stake is the future of the scandal-scarred DOC, with inmate activists and jail experts urging the federal judge — who’s overseeing a class action legal case dating to 2011 — to appoint a receiver to take over the entire agency.
Laura Taylor Swain, the chief district judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, has given Molina until November to implement his action plan before she assesses the results.
Molina and Mayor Eric Adams have maintained they should remain in control of the department and simply need more time to enact reforms.
The DOC has repeatedly declined to answer any questions from THE CITY about the promised hiring and staff changeup.
“We are still working on this for you,” department spokesperson Danielle DeSouza said on Sept. 16.
Clerk or Correction Officer?
The department employed 6,968 correction officers and 1,486 civilian staff as of July 31, according to the city’s Independent Budget Office. During budget talks earlier this year, Adams tried to hire 578 new officers but the request was nixed by the City Council.
The mayor’s proposed budget did not call for any additional civilian hiring at the city’s jails.
The union representing jail officers has opposed replacing officers doing clerical work or other administrative roles with civilians, according to multiple former top jail officials.
Many officers have long benefited from being assigned to cushy roles — far from detainees — like clerical work, driving, tailoring sheets for detainees, and cooking. Sometimes the assignments are doled out as favors.
“There’s so little you can do to reward people,” said former Correction Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi. “This is steeped into the system.”
When he first took office as commissioner in June 2021, he was handed a report conducted by the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance that “showed high rates of correction officers working in civilian posts” at the city Correction Department, Schiraldi said.
Whenever he tried to reassign people back to jail duty they called out sick or claimed to be injured, said Schiraldi.
“People felt they had earned their way away from the jails,” Schiraldi. “They’d say, ‘I don’t jail anymore.’”
Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio Jr. himself was moved from Rikers to The Bronx criminal courthouse by former Commissioner Martin Horn during the Bloomberg administration, according to Horn.
He said he made the transfer after a request by former COBA President Norman Seabrook.
Boscio has had full leave from his job since being elected union president in 2020.
Molina’s action plan — developed with federal monitor Steve Martin — also promised to hire a so-called “staffing manager” to develop a new system to make sure officers show up to work.
Last month, Molina hired Ronald Edwards to fill that role, overseeing the assignment and management of officers.
Edwards has over 20 years of law enforcement experience and most recently worked as the director of corrections at the Hudson County Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in New Jersey. He began his career as a correction officer and K-9 handler.
A source familiar with the department’s reform effort said several offers for other top spots have been made and some new staff is expected to be brought on soon.
Patrols Over Paper Cuts
The lack of progress “civilianizing” the Correction Department comes as the NYPD also has struggled for decades to civilianize.
Adams, a former police captain, has hailed recent efforts to do so by both departments.
“Here’s my problem with the NYPD,” the new mayor told reporters in January. “You hired … a police officer to be on patrol to go after the bad guys — that was why you hired him. He should not be sitting in the license division. His dangerous day should not be a paper cut. He needs to be on patrol.”
Police have handled clerical duties for decades despite multiple legal rulings ordering the NYPD to replace those officers with less expensive civilian employees known as police administrative aides.
Several hundred police officers are working full-time clerical roles within the department, according to the union representing the administrative aides.
For years, the NYPD submitted quarterly reports to the City Council detailing progress on the issue.
But THE CITY reported in January that those updates relied on “three different datasets, none of which were consistent with the other,” according to City Comptroller Brad Lander’s first published audit, which had been initiated by his predecessor.