As prepared for delivery February 3, 2020
Testimony before the
New York City Council
Committee on Criminal Justice
Chair, Keith Powers
Cynthia Brann, Commissioner
NYC Department of Correction
February 3, 2020
Good Morning, Chair Powers and members of the Committee on Criminal Justice. I am Cynthia Brann, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). I am joined today by Chief of Department Hazel Jennings and my Chief of Staff Brenda Cooke. I thank you all for this opportunity to discuss the Department’s ongoing efforts to prevent, deescalate and investigate violent and potentially violent incidents in our facilities.
The safety, security, and wellbeing of every person living and working in the Department’s facilities is my top priority. Under this Administration, the City has made a critical and necessary investment in jail infrastructure, technology and staff. In the past five years, we have: installed 14,000 cameras ensuring complete camera coverage of our facilities, redefined for our staff what it means to use force and reissued our use of force policy with a clear use of force definition, developed a centralized electronic tracking system to track uses of force and slashings and stabbings, instituted a procedure whereby every use of force across the Department is investigated by the Investigation Division, and trained over 10,000 officers on a revised use of force policy as well as providing them training in descalation and crisis intervention techniques. As a result, the reporting we have today is more thorough, more detailed, and more accurate than the statistics we were able to produce five years ago, or even three years ago. We are building on these successes by evaluating the trends presented by these comprehensive statistics and making data driven decisions that take a holistic look at the drivers of violence in order to improve overall safety. At the same time, the Department is expanding its culture change efforts to support an agency wide understanding that safe facilities are built upon a foundation of respect, understanding and humanity. While there are no quick fixes, I believe we have positioned ourselves in the best manner possible to address the work ahead.
This November marked four years since the effective date of the Nunez Consent Judgement. In this time, we have achieved an overall 85% compliance with the consent decree, including areas related to the promulgation of a new use of force directive and corresponding disciplinary guidelines, an anonymous reporting system, and the development and deployment of new training curricula including conflict resolution, crisis intervention, and safe crisis management. This month, the Department continued to build on this work by rolling out the second phase of its transfer of learning use of force training module and continuing valuable training sessions between the Chief of Department and leadership in the facilities.
Despite an overall increase in the total aggregate number of uses of force, the Department has made important progress over the past year. From 2018 to 2019, the combined total of use of force with serious injury and use of force minor injury decreased by 9%. Additionally, 74% of total uses of force in 2019 were classified as UOF C, which means no injury resulted from that use. Further, in 2019, officer intervention to save someone involved in a fight from physical harm remained one of the top two drivers of the overall use of force across the Department. In respect to our safety indicators, the total number of fights between people in custody decreased by 2% from 2018 to 2019, and there has been a 14% reduction in assaults on staff involving serious injury in the same time period.
Using force is a valid component of correctional practice and, as expressed in the monitor’s report, force by staff in a correctional setting is at times necessary to maintain order and safety. The mere fact that force was used does not mean staff acted inappropriately. As I have stated, every use of force is now documented. In the context of this hearing, it’s also important to note that the use of force is not synonymous with violence. Use of force is defined as any instance where staff use physical intervention to gain compliance, and can include a range of qualifying action from placing a hand on an individuals elbow to guide someone down the hallway who is resisting, even if only passively, to using force to break up a fight. To support safer operations, we must focus not only on the total number of uses of force, but on the force that is avoidable. To that end, within one day of an incident, each use of force is closely scrutinized to evaluate if the force used was a result of something we did, or didn’t to do, that caused, contributed, or escalated the circumstances leading up to the use of force, and if, had we acted differently, could the use of force have been avoided all together. When a review determines a use of force is avoidable, action to address the circumstances, including retraining and potentially discipline, is taken immediately. I am proud to say that between January 2019 and December 2019, there has been a 66% reduction in avoidable uses of force across our facilities as a result of this effort. This tells us that staff are improving in their compliance with operational policies and taking steps to conduct themselves in a way that avoids creating or contributing to circumstates that require the use of force.
The monitor’s report makes clear, however, that we still have hard work ahead of us in order to fully achieve the goals of the Consent Judgement and we are not shying away from the work ahead. Since the release of the Eighth Monitor’s Report, which covers the period of January through June 2019, the Department has been in close collaboration with the Monitoring team to develop new initiatives and solutions to support safer facilities.
That said, the core of making our facilities safer must come from an internal shift within this institution. Culture change is not just about changing the way the Department treats people within its custody, but changing the way we treat each other and how we approach our jobs. We have made substantial strides in this effort, including increasing the transparency of our operations, hosting regular meetings with community members and advocates at our offices and with the Board of Correction, and participating in dozens of community based meetings to discuss the future placement and design of our new facilities. In furtherance of our efforts to create a culture based on respect and an appreciation of our shared humanity, staff have also been directed to refer to people in custody using professional, person-forward terminology. In addition, our Training and Development Division has taken on a mission-driven effort to support leadership training at all levels, because we know that if we do not develop the leaders of tomorrow, any progress we make today risks being lost in the future.
In addition, we are continuing to look outward and are gathering advice and information from around the country and around the world in order to truly modernize practice. This Department recently joined criminal justice experts and community leaders on a trip to Norway to learn more about their practices. While not everything we saw in Norway is immediately transferable, this trip was enlightening and has continued to shape the way we are devising solutions to some of our most challenging situations.
Throughout the latter half of last year, the Department was establishing the next phase of its culture change effort, a training program, known as Outward Mindset, which connects facility safety with a human approach to jail management. In January, the entire executive team and facility uniform leadership participated in Outward Mindset training, and DOC academy trainers have been certified to lead these trainings for our staff. This month, the two day Outward Mindset training will be rolled out for all personnel working in one of our jails including uniform staff, non uniform staff, staff from DOC and CHS, program providers, and volunteers. Outward Mindset training promotes the belief that, in most cases, a healthy and successful organizational culture can be achieved by embracing principles of understanding, communication, and mutual respect. It instructs and uses credible messengers to prove that everyone in a jail facility is made safer by interacting with each other with an appreciation for the full scope of a person’s humanity rather than viewing people as objects. Through the Outward Mindset program, staff will be supported in conducting themselves and engaging with people in custody in a way that minimizes situations that necessitate the use of force, which will in turn create an environment where force as a path towards compliance and safety is needed less frequently. This course has yielded positive results for law enforcement agencies, including the Utah State Department of Correction. We are bringing in this program because it works, it aligns with our goals, and we believe that it will be successful.
Meaningful, sustained culture change is a process we are fully engaged in, but it takes time. We see evidence of culture change every day and that sustains us and encourages us to keep pushing forward. There are no easy answers or quick fixes, but we have put ourselves in the best position possible to tackle challenges head on. This work is critical to the success of our agency and our collective commitment to ensuring a New York City correctional system that matches the values of our great city. By approaching this work together, as public servants, public officials and community members, I know we will be successful in this important mission. I would like to take this opportunity to share a video used in the Outward Mindset training that exemplifies our new approach to safety and compliance, after which my colleagues and I are happy to answer any questions you may have.