The city's new correction commissioner has agreed to pay a hefty fine for using her official vehicle for personal trips.
That was announced Tuesday as it was revealed the cost of running Rikers Island continues to rise, even as the number of inmates declines. Criminal Justice Reporter Dean Meminger filed the following report.
Another black eye for the city correction department: The conflict of interest board says the department's new commissioner, Cynthia Brann, and eight other bosses, have agreed to pay tens of thousands of dollars for taking personal trips with their city vehicles.
"It is pretty shocking to me that the folks that are supposed to be in the business of rehabilitating other folk, they themselves are suddenly being punished for breaking the rules," said Glenn Martin of the group Just Leadership USA.
Brann used her city vehicle for 13 trips to shopping malls and three to Kennedy Airport, and then, in another violation, asked for a subordinate's help in getting a cashier's check to pay the penalty. At the time, she was a deputy commissioner.
She has agreed to pay a $6,000 fine, forfeit $5,800 in personal leave, and reimburse the city $480 in mileage costs.
Martin is a key advocate for closing Rikers Island. "Essentially when the mayor decided to appoint a long time bureaucrat, who had this stain on her record of using city vehicles for personal reasons," Martin said. "I thought that was a strong indicator that he was not committed to actually closing Rikers."
Brann replaced Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who retired after it was discovered that he used his city vehicle for personal use. The findings against Brann were uncovered in that same investigation.
Meanwhile, City Comptroller Scott Stringer has released a report that found the cost of running the jail has soared to more than $1.3 billion a year, while the inmate population has fallen.
"This has become a real fiscal horror show for our city, and we have to think about ways in which we reduce our fiscal liability," Stringer said.
There are now 9,500 inmates on Rikers, which is down from 14,000. But the number of correction officers has risen to more than 10,000, and statistics show inmate violence continues to increase.
"From a fiscal perspective, to spend $1.3 billion on 9,500 inmates seems like a colossal waste of money," Stringer said.
"The problem with Rikers, is Rikers — not just the culture, but the cost it takes to run an entire island for an increasingly reduced amount of people that are serving time," Martin said.
The city says it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Rikers security upgrades and job training and other programs to help inmates. The correction department said it believes that is money well spent.
Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen said in a statement, "If the public is alarmed by the spike in DOC's budget, they should be aghast at the City's proposed plan to spend $10 Billion to open new jails in the outer Boroughs. We appreciate the Comptroller's Report released today which confirms the findings of the most recent Mayor's Management Report, showing the steady rise in jail violence and particularly, the rise of inmate assaults on Correction Officers over the past four years. We sincerely hope that the City Council and the Mayor's Office will pay attention to these findings and give us the tools and resources we desperately need to make the jails safer."