Department of Correction Slammed for Egregious Failures to Follow Mandates to Curb Sexual Abuse and Brutality in City Jails

New York City’s actual progress in curbing violence in the City jails was found to be dismal despite its publicly stated intention to make safer jails, according to two separate oversight findings released today. The New York City Board of Correction passed a resolution finding DOC in violation of standards to prevent sexual abuse and harassment of vulnerable people incarcerated in the jails.

Separately, the independent federal monitor overseeing implementation of the court order in Nunez v City of New York, requiring the City to end abuse by correctional officers, released an alarming report finding an “ingrained propensity of Staff to immediately default to force to manage any level of inmate threat or resistance” but an “absence of timely accountability for such misconduct.” The Monitor found that Department of Correction staff too often “engender, nurture and encourage confrontation,” “relish confrontation,” and “[c]onfrontation avoidance appears to be anathema to many supervisors and line Staff.” The Monitor warned: “The misuses of force that regularly occur in the Department simply cannot continue to go on unabated.”

“The leadership in the Department of Correction must hold itself accountable not only for the hostility and violence that is too engrained in jail management, but also for the sheer incompetence of its systems of accountability,” said Mary Lynne Werlwas, Director of the Legal Aid Society Prisoners’ Rights Project and counsel for the plaintiff class in Nunez. “For too long this Department has announced policy reforms without demonstrating that it has a deep bench of supervisors with the skills to implement reform. DOC Commissioner Cynthia Brann must put her experience with the Department to immediate use and ensure supervisors and staff act professionally and bring our jails into the norms of modern corrections.”


Nunez v. City of New York, Fourth Monitor’s Report:

The Fourth Monitor’s Report found that between January 1, 2017 and June 30, 2017:

  • Use of Force (UOF) rates continue to rise, going up 9% from January-June 2016 to January-June 2017. (p. 21) At the Rose M. Singer Center, the UOF rate increased 71%; at the Vernon C. Bain Center, 116%. The Department has no idea why. (p. 26-27).

  • A “disturbing” number of captains were “frequently and repeatedly involved in problematic UOF incidents.” “That these Captains are often left in a position to engage in subsequent misconduct is one of the clearest examples of the lack of accountability in the DOC.” Instead of being disciplined, these captains were often “rewarded” and “incentivized to continue behaving in this manner.” (p. 9-10)

  • DOC determined that 22% of UOFs caught on video were “avoidable,” 1/3 because of “unprofessional Staff behavior,” and 1/4 because of staff’s lack of de-escalation skills. Per Nunez, all correctional staff will soon be trained in de-escalation methods. (p. 37-38)

  • Internal abuse investigations are “all too often” late, “simply not credible,” and “plainly deficient in quality, resulting in no remedial actions being taken when they are clearly warranted.” (p. 11)

  • Since November 2015, 40 incarcerated 16-18 year-olds have reported they were sexually abused or harassed. The City failed to complete investigations into any within the required 60 day limit. 30% of the investigations remain pending 240 days after the allegation and 23% over a year after the allegation. (p. 227)

  • In 1/3 of audited cases, no disciplinary charges were brought when staff failed to report unnecessary UOFs by other staff, outright failed to report UOFs at all, lied to try to justify the force, and failed to report chokeholds and blows to the head. (p. 56)

  • Examples of egregious uses of force:

    June 2017, p. 11:

    A Captain with an extensive recent history of involvement in problematic uses of force was involved in an incident during which the Captain kicked/stomped an inmate. In February, this same Captain had unnecessarily used OC on an inmate and thereafter slammed the inmate into a wall, causing a head injury requiring five sutures.

    April 2017, p. 8:

    [A]n Officer precipitated a use of force and after the inmate had been restrained, a Captain was heard on tape exhorting Officers in a crude and profane manner to use further force if necessary, notwithstanding that the inmate was no longer exhibiting any resistance to Staff.

    January 2017, p. 10:

    [O]ne Captain who was involved in no fewer than four problematic applications of force and one in which the Captain used a racial epithet when ordering Staff to place the inmate on the wall. During an incident in late December 2016, a Deputy Warden ordered a Captain to use chemical agents (“OC”) on a restrained inmate standing passively with his face to the wall. Yet another Captain, who has an extensive recent history of involvement in problematic uses of force, used a crowd-control canister of OC on an inmate who was restrained and lying prone on the ground. In yet another incident, one Officer needlessly precipitated what became a potentially dangerous major disturbance. During that incident, another Officer was virtually out of control and engaged in a shoving match with a Captain, and thereafter used OC on a restrained inmate who was acting in compliance with the other Officers’ orders.


Board of Correction Resolution states:

  • “The NYC Department of Correction has failed to comply, and continues to be non-compliant, with the Board of Correction Minimum Standards” requiring them to identify people at risk of being sexually abused in custody and placing them in safe housing.
  • These standards are “a critical component of preventing sexual violence in the City’s jails.”

The Board ordered the Department to comply with the standards, and report back to the Board frequently about its progress.