As prepared for delivery
Testimony before the
New York City Council
Committee on Criminal Justice
Chair Keith Powers
Lynelle Maginley-Liddie, First Deputy Commissioner
NYC Department of Correction
March 22, 2021
Good afternoon Chair Powers, and members of the Committee on Criminal Justice. I am First Deputy Commissioner Lynelle Maginley-Liddie, and I am glad to see that you are all healthy and well. I am pleased to be joined today by the dedicated members of the Department of Correction’s leadership team, including Chief of Department Hazel Jennings, Chief of Staff Brenda Cooke, Bureau Chief of Security Kenneth Stukes, Deputy Commissioner for Financial, Facility, and Fleet Administration Patricia Lyons, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Heidi Grossman, Deputy Commissioner for Programs and Community Partnerships Judy Beale, and Assistant Commissioner for Programs and Community Partnerships Francis Torres. Today, my colleagues and I are here to discuss the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, the impact of coronavirus on our facilities and the Department’s response to this unprecedented event, and our dedication to continued reform efforts.
First and foremost, I want to respond to some very troubling matters that have made recent news. With respect to the concerns regarding Securus, who is our third-party telephone vendor, and the recording of privileged conversations of people in custody with their counsel and legal representatives, I want to assure the Council and the public that we take this issue extremely seriously. Although this was a human data entry error on the part of Securus, confidential attorney client communication is a fundamental right, and we have a duty to ensure privileged conversations are private. Since becoming aware of this issue in December of last year, we have been taking aggressive steps to identify the scope of the problem and create a robust quality assurance system with the vendor. This includes:
As an extra layer of protection, the Department is also designing its own audit process to guard against future errors. Finally, all calls that are not on the do not record list have and will continue to have a pre-recorded announcement play when the call begins that makes clear to all parties that the call is being recorded, allowing either side to terminate the call prior to discussing any privileged information. The pre-recorded announcement has been enhanced to specifically warn attorneys that if they are hearing the announcement the call is not private and they should hang up. This matter has further been referred to DOI so that they can conduct an independent investigation into this matter, the Department plans to cooperate fully with DOI. As much as we believe these steps will provide appropriate mitigation against further issues, we recognize that this should never have happened and are taking all steps to guard against any further issues in the future.
We have similarly taken swift action in response to the circumstances surrounding the erroneous discharge of a dangerous individual from our custody. This was a significant error that should not have happened, and we immediately suspended four staff members related to this event. We are continuing to collaborate with law enforcement in order to apprehend this individual.
COVID-19 continues to weigh heavily on this city. Throughout the crisis, the Department has worked to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible. Although we openly report on the deaths of individuals who passed away in custody, we did not have a process to report on the deaths of those compassionately released from custody as a result of illness who later died outside of our care. We are working with our partners at Correctional Health Services to provide a more complete picture of these deaths, while respecting the rights of the rights of the formerly detained individual and those of their family.
Before further proceeding with my testimony, I also want to express my condolences to the families of the two men who had been in custody who recently passed away. Every death in custody is tragic, these made even more so after a year of so much loss. The Department conducts investigations following any death in custody, however following these deaths we also plan to fully comply with an independent audit of the mental observation units conducted by the Board of Correction to evaluate and make recommendations surrounding our practices in these housing areas. We anticipate this work will support the Department and Correctional Health Services in our efforts to care for the most vulnerable individuals.
I would also like to take the opportunity today to provide you with an update on our ongoing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, speak to ongoing reform work underway, and advise you of our budgetary plans for the upcoming year.
Last March, we were drafting action and safety plans based on a globally limited understanding of COVID-19. We relied on our crisis management skills and our profound duty to protect our staff and those in our custody. In a matter of hours, we sprung into action assembling protocols for distancing and sanitation, securing PPE, learning about testing, and building relationships with our healthcare partners across the City. This critical and expeditious work embodies the Department’s refined mission statement, proving that we are an organization that goes beyond care, custody, and control, and is one that focuses on creating safe and supportive environments for those in custody.
Before I continue any further, I would like to recognize the dedicated and hard-working employees of the Department of Correction and Correctional Health Services for their incredible efforts and sacrifices throughout this pandemic. Tragically, the Department lost 11 members of our staff to COVID-19, and over nineteen hundred uniform and non uniform staff members have tested positive over the past year. Despite these uncertain and challenging times, DOC staff have remained committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of those entrusted to our care every single day, at a great expense to themselves and their families. I am proud of their heroic efforts and am honored to work beside them.
Now, with approximately 60 patients with active cases in our facilities, the Department continues to successfully mitigate COVID-19 within its jails and emerged as a national leader in responding to the crisis.
Recap of Mitigation Efforts
Our success in managing COVID-19 is a result of establishing a mitigation protocol, providing regular and clear communication to staff and people in custody, and modifying services to support our population.
In partnership with Correctional Health Services, the Department identified entry point vulnerabilities which allowed the virus into our facilities. We developed a responsive tiered housing strategy that separated those with COVID-19 exposure and positivity from the general population. Additionally, the Department established a robust sanitation protocol, provided and mandated PPE for all staff and persons in custody, and painted cues in common areas to encourage social distancing. These measures have been in place since the height of the pandemic and have continued to keep people in custody safe as evidenced by the Department’s consistently low COVID-19 positivity rate, a figure which is lower than current citywide statistics. The Department has continued to build on its existing mitigation strategy and now offers onsite testing and vaccination opportunities for our staff and partners with CHS to afford the vaccine to all eligible persons in custody.
This year the majority of our ingenuity and creativity was devoted to reimagining well established services in a COVID-19 safe manner. We developed hotlines that connected people in custody to chaplains, discharge planning, and LGBTQ services. Additionally, we stood up a televisit initiative in a matter of weeks, created a mechanism for supervised community release, and rolled out thousands of tablets with educational and recreational programming across our facilities. We are in discussions with our health partners to determine when it is safe to resume in-person visitations and other in-person services.
Still, despite the immediate challenges before us, the Department continued to prioritize our reform efforts and made progress on initiatives that will shape correctional practice for years to come. As you are aware, Commissioner Brann participated in the Mayor’s working group to eliminate the use of solitary confinement and a draft of the Board’s revised rules surrounding restrictive housing based on the recommendations of that working group was recently made public. The Department has been a leader in punitive segregation reform for the past six years and looks forward to continuing to set the standard for other jurisdictions to follow. Further, we are continuing to work closely with sister agencies to push forward the borough-based jail initiative and are actively working with partners to design state-of-the-art jail facilities informed by lessons learned through COVID-19.
Fiscal Year 2022 Preliminary Budget and Its Impact on DOC
The Department’s Fiscal Year 2022 Expense Budget is $1.16 billion. The vast majority of this, 87% is allocated for Personal Services, and 13% for Other than Personal Services. The Fiscal Year 2022 budget is $16.8 million more than this year’s budget of $1.14 billion. This increase is due the addition of collective bargaining funding.
Included in the Preliminary Budget are decreases of $9.6 million in Fiscal Year 2021, $61.6 million in Fiscal Year 2022, and $23.9 million in each Fiscal Year 2023, 2024, and 2025. The following are some highlights of the major initiatives that were included in the budget:
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today and for your continued support of the work we do on behalf of those in our care. My colleagues and I are available to answer any questions that you may have.