By Curtis Brodner, January 18, 2023
NEW YORK (1010 WINS) — The New York City Department of Correction is ending its policy of providing unmitigated security video access to the watchdog agency tasked with overseeing it, officials announced Wednesday.
The Board of Correction, which is responsible for ensuring the city’s prison system is operating legally and ethically, demanded the DOC restore access.
The nine-member board will still be able to review video from security, body and handheld cameras if they request to do so within business hours at a designated location, but they will no longer be able to access the footage at-will and will not be able to monitor surveillance cameras live.
The revocation of access to the watchdog could limit the ability of the public, the press and other officials from accessing the video as well, as the Board of Correction was the primary conduit for disseminating such information.
The BOC said the revocation is “at odds with the New York City Charter,” which guarantees the board access to “all books, records, documents, and papers of the Department for the evaluation of departmental performance.”
The DOC did not explain why it changed its policy, but insisted the change fell within the mandate set forth by the charter.
“We are an agency deeply committed to transparency. A change in protocol was made concerning how — not if — the Board of Correction can access all real-time DOC camera footage,” said a DOC spokesperson. “We remain committed to working with the BOC, and their new Chair, to build a safer and more humane jail system.”
City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and City Council Criminal Justice Chair Carlina Rivera denounced the decision and demanded the DOC reinstate the BOC’s former access.
“The Department of Correction must immediately reverse this dangerous and legally dubious revocation of access for its oversight entity,” said the council members. “Given the humanitarian crisis and lack of safety in our city jails, with last year having the highest number of deaths in nearly a decade, strong oversight of city jail facilities is needed. The Department of Correction’s actions undermine New Yorkers’ safety, and Mayor [Eric] Adams and Commissioner [Louis] Molina must do the right thing to halt this obstruction of accountability.”
The new limit comes amid a spate of deaths at Rikers Island that have raised concerns about DOC negligence and conditions in New York City prisons.
Nineteen people died in DOC custody or shortly after being released in 2022 out of an average daily population of almost 6,000 prisoners.
That’s the highest death rate in New York City prisons in over a quarter century.
The Board of Correction is responsible for investigating the deaths, and the DOC’s revocation could delay probes as investigators are now forced to jump through hoops to review video.
The change could also create opportunities for video to be withheld without the BOC’s knowledge, as camera feeds can no longer be monitored live.
“Viewing real-time video footage from the jails allows BOC to immediately dispatch field staff to address situations like impending riots, to investigate deaths in custody, and to monitor the conditions in the jails.” said the Legal Aid Society, an non-profit that represents many incarcerated New Yorkers, in a statement. “The Mayor’s ham-fisted move serves no purpose except to hide the violence, chaos and mismanagement that pervades his jails and endangers our incarcerated clients every day.”