At a moment of skyrocketing violence in New York City jails, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina snubbed the jails’ oversight board at its regular meeting for a second month in a row on Tuesday.
Neither Molina nor a single member of his staff attended the meeting, either in person or virtually, which longtime current and former correction officials said was unprecedented. The Board of Correction regulates the Department of Correction, which runs the city's jails. Molina was scheduled Tuesday to give updates on an “action plan” mandated by a federal judge to improve conditions and reduce violence. He was also supposed to answer questions about chronic staff absenteeism and problems with the visitation program.
But Monday night, Molina informed the board that he and his staff were “unable to attend,” according to Amanda Masters, the board’s executive director. Molina also did not attend last month’s meeting, without explanation, but his deputies did testify before the board at that meeting.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting, board member Freya Rigterink ticked off a range of data that Molina has refused to provide to the board, including on unstaffed posts (given the staffing crisis) and the number of suicide prevention aides (given the historic highs in suicides by incarcerated people).
“All of this together paints a picture that there is a real troubling lack of transparency,” Rigterink said. “And that much more information is needed about the conditions in the jails and what the plan is in order to move the department into a place where they can be providing full staffing and better care for people in custody.”
Molina’s absence also left lingering questions about a proposal he made last week, and then suddenly rescinded, to increase the amount of time that detainees at one particularly violent jail at Rikers can be locked alone in their cells in order to stem a wave of retaliatory gang violence.
Several members of the correction officers’ union, who are allied with Molina, took to the microphone to decry the City Council’s proposed ban on solitary confinement. That proposal, however, is not before the board.
After this story published, Deputy Commissioner for Public Information James Boyd said in an email that the commissioner and his executive team did not attend the meeting because the federal monitor who oversees Rikers was visiting from out of town.
This story has been updated.