As prepared for delivery
Statement before the
New York City Council
Committee on Criminal Justice
Keith Powers, Chairperson
Committee on Finance
Daniel Dromm, Chairperson
By Cynthia Brann, Commissioner
on the Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2020
May 9, 2019
Good Morning, Chair Powers, Chair Dromm, members of the Committee on Criminal Justice, members of the Committee on Finance and other distinguished members of the City Council. I am Cynthia Brann, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction (DOC). Joining me today are Chief of the Department Hazel Jennings, Chief of Staff Brenda Cooke, Acting Deputy Commissioner Patricia Lyons, and Acting Associate Commissioner Joseph Antonelli. I thank you for this additional opportunity to discuss the Department’s FY20 budget and further describe my vision for the Department and my goals for upcoming fiscal year and beyond.
The FY 2020 Executive Budget reflects ongoing reforms and initiatives that we have been implementing to make our Department a national leader in corrections and establish procedures for long-term success. The reforms and initiatives we are implementing are bold and promising. When I testified before you in March, I outlined meaningful reforms currently underway and I am pleased to have this opportunity to update you on this work.
As we discussed at the March hearing on the preliminary budget, the Department continues to be an active partner in the Close Rikers discussions. Rikers Island was designed during a different era, when jail operations failed to provide meaningful opportunities for rehabilitation or provide the support many of those in our care need to for a successful reentry back into their communities. Today’s DOC has different priorities. My goal is for those who are entrusted into our care leave our facilities better equipped for success than when they came in: the updated facilities proposed through the borough based jail plan will help us do just that. When the Mayor took office, there was an average of more than 11,000 people in custody on any given day. Today, the average daily population is below 8,000 and recent reform efforts at the state level have ensured it will continue to decrease. My staff continue to engage with the public on this plan through small community meetings, community board discussions, and now meetings with the community boards and the public to discuss the ULURP process. We are listening to the community’s concerns and I am confident the final plan will reflect that engagement.
Last week the Department successfully implemented free domestic phone calls for everyone in our custody. This applies to everyone, regardless of housing unit, housing type, or infraction history. Access to free calls is not based on good behavior and we have nothing in place that would eliminate individuals’ access to free calls. In fact, through this initiative, we actually increased the number and duration of phone calls that our sentenced population previously had access to. Further, in order to accommodate an expected increase in calls, the Department is installing over 40 new phones in high density units across our facilities. Free phone calls are a significant shift that represents this Department and this City’s commitment to humane treatment of incarcerated people and to limiting the financial burden placed on those involved in the criminal justice system. Free phone calls will also enhance individuals’ connections with their families and their communities. Finally, it is worth noting that this important reform was enacted ahead of the date required by law. I hope this may serve as further proof of the Department’s ongoing commitment to culture change and reform.
In April, the Department opened a much needed and deserved staff Wellness Center on Rikers Island. The Wellness Center, housed in the newly renovated space within the George Motchan Detention Center (GMDC), is open 24 hours a day Monday through Friday with additional hours on the weekend. The Wellness Center provides staff with a calming environment to engage in fitness, activities, religious practice, mindfulness and meditation, or to simply enjoy a conversation with their colleagues in a stress free environment. The purpose of the Center is to provide staff resources in a dedicated location where they are able to relax and engage in healthy activities. Many staff choose to use the Center before their tours to ensure they are entering the facilities mindfully, but staff also use the Center to decompress following their tours before heading home. We are very happy with the staff participation in wellness center activities and we have received very positive feedback. In addition to the Wellness Center, GMDC is also now home to the Learning Center, which provides dedicated space for on-island classroom training as well as a computer lab for online courses. The men and women of the Department of Correction serve an essential role in the criminal justice system and their daily work is performed in challenging environment. I am extremely proud that we are able to offer enhanced services to support their important work.
Safety and security continue to be this Department’s first priority. As previously discussed, the Department is nearing the end of the process necessary to operationalize the newly installed body scanners. The ionizing body scanners will be used to screen individuals in custody for contraband upon their admission into our facilities and may also be used if officers receive intelligence or otherwise have reason to believe an individual possesses contraband. These scanners will be to detect non-metallic weapons, such as ceramic scalpels, which have become the chief drivers of slashings and stabbings within the facilities. To date we have installed scanners AMKC, GRVC, OBCC, and RNDC. Our scanners have passed rigorous testing from our contracted radiation physicist and, as required by law, these documents are being reviewed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Office of Radiation Health.
The Department has been working to support culture change efforts though multi-level leadership development training opportunities. In the last year, we have brought in experts in leadership and critical thinking skills to enhance mid and senior level staff members’ problem solving, communication, and management skills. We have introduced an Emerging Women’s Leaders program through our partners at the Moss Group and have developed a Non-Uniform Leadership Development Program for our mid-level mangers. Both programs utilize principles of organizational management to assist unit leaders and area heads in developing their management style and growing the capabilities of their staff. Our Chief of Department, Hazel Jennings, has also taken a critical look at the trainings available to her assistant deputy wardens and captains, and has begun to meet with them biweekly in order to support their development and overall operational growth.
The Department’s Fiscal Year 2020 Expense Budget is $1.36 billion. The vast majority of this, 88%, is allocated for Personnel Services, and 12% for Other than Personnel Services. The Fiscal Year 2020 budget is $19 million less than this year’s budget of $1.38 billion. This decrease is largely attributed to housing consolidation savings that will take effect at the beginning of Fiscal Year 2020.
Included in the Preliminary Budget are decreases of $46.2 million in Fiscal Year 2020, $21.4 million in FY2021, and $20.7 million in FY2022 and the out years.
The following are the Department of Correction’s Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG) Proposals included in the Executive Budget, totaling the Fiscal Year 2020 target of $42.1 million:
The following initiatives were also included in the Executive Budget as part of the Citywide savings program:
With regard to capital funding, the Fiscal Year 2020 Executive Capital Budget and Commitment Plan totals $10.1 billion, which covers Fiscal Years 2019 through 2029. In this Plan, an additional $7.7 billion was added to the Department’s Capital Budget for the Borough Based Jail Plan, bringing the total funding for the project to $8.7 billion, distributed between Fiscal Years 2020 and 2026. This funding shows the Administration’s commitment to the plan and we are excited to continue moving forward through the planning process and the construction of four new, state of the art facilities that will vastly improve the living conditions for those who are in our custody, as well as the working conditions for our staff.
Fiscal Year 2019 continues to be the first year we will be fully staffed in our jails for the entire fiscal year since our reform agenda began in 2015, which has led to sustained overtime reductions and more efficient use of our resources. Since May 2014, the Department has hired over 6,500 new Correction Officers, including the most recent class of approximately 400 recruits, who entered the Academy in February 2019 and are scheduled to graduate in July 2019. With the graduation of this class, we expect our progress to carry forward into Fiscal Year 2020 and beyond.
Over the past few years, we have been able to reduce uniformed overtime spending from $240.4 million in Fiscal Year 2017 to $198.1 million in Fiscal Year 2018. Through March 31st, Fiscal Year 2019 uniformed overtime spending has totaled $115.6 million, which is down 24% from $152.6 million for the same period last year in Fiscal Year 2018. Now that we have caught up with our hiring and project full staffing in our facilities going forward, we expect uniformed overtime to level off and be within the allocated budget in Fiscal Year 2020 and the out years. Though we are above our target at this point in the fiscal year, we are continuing to scrutinize the expenditure of overtime and will take necessary steps to see that the Department is within its overtime budget.
The following is a summary of the changes to the Department’s civilian and uniformed authorized staffing levels included in the Executive Plan:
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today and for your continued support. I thank the Mayor and the Council for their dedication to Criminal Justice reform and their ongoing support of the reform efforts taking place at the Department of Correction. I look forward to working with you all in the years to come. My colleagues and I are available to answer any questions that you may have.