To the Editor:

If you think you’ve heard all about the chaotic state of Department of Correction under Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Cynthia Brann, here’s another case in point that displays DOC’s ridiculousness. Today hundreds of inmates can exit their locked cells anytime they want to and the leadership is fully aware of this major breach of security. This is not only absurd, it is gross negligence.

English philosopher Thomas Paine coined the phrase “From the sublime to the ridiculous” during The Age of Reason in 1794. Was he heralding the DOC in 2019?

From 1994-2009 DOC was in its “sublime” phase, exalted nationwide and receiving countless accolades. From 2014 to the present DOC has been in its “ridiculous” phase, consistently stirring nonsensical disarray.

There are strategic reasons why some inmates are housed in cells and others in dormitories. These decisions are based on the classification status that determines the needs and assesses the threat of each individual inmate, i.e., high-security risk, assaultive, escape risk, protective custody, inter alia.

Security is a keystone of jail administration. Cells are obviously intended to securely hold inmates during lock-in periods. However, for almost two years there have been jails within NYCDOC, predominantly the Robert N. Davoren Center, the Anna M. Kross Center, the Brooklyn Detention Complex and Manhattan Detention Complex where inmates on a regular basis can unilaterally unlock their cells at will. The locking mechanism on hundreds of cells is easily manipulated by inmates to the point where, in a matter of seconds, they can open the cell and exit like a “jack In the box.”

Not only does this behavior thwart security, it is also a clear-and-present danger to Correction Officers and inmates, already resulting in both being assaulted. Further, normal activity is regularly disrupted because inmates are unexpectedly “popping out” of their cells during lock-in times.

“Popping out” is the colloquialism used within DOC to describe inmates manipulating their cell locking mechanism and exiting at will. Inmates that “pop out” face little or no consequences. As you might imagine, the lack of discipline encourages this behavior to not only continue but also to become more prevalent among other inmates.

It is clearly a violation of DOC rules and moreover meets the elements of Obstructing Governmental Administration, which is a crime (NYS Penal Law section 195.05). Without seeing any DOC arrest statistics, I will speculate that under this administration no inmates have been arrested and charged with OGA for popping out.

In the recent past, a phrase has been adopted and consistently repeated by a demoralized DOC uniformed staff that has lost its authority and control of the jails because of Brann’s dearth of leadership. You will hear staff say, “all we have left are the keys.”

Cynthia Brann has been aware of this security breach since being appointed Commissioner by de Blasio nearly two years ago, yet little has changed. As you read this, inmates might be manipulating the lock on their cell and exiting it without authorization.

DOC’s Federal monitor should inquire as to how many assaults on staff, inmate-on-inmate assaults, uses of force, calls for assistance and other disruptions have occurred as a result of inmates popping out.

Has history and experience not taught us anything? Violent crimes frequently occur in jail. DOC must be proactive not reactive. This is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine.” Is Cynthia Brann waiting for a catastrophe to occur: a homicide, a rape, an escape from custody or an inmate uprising before she neutralizes this threat? In the event of an inmate uprising, Bill de Blasio and Cynthia Brann are neither ready to overcome nor capable of surmounting this peril.

An inmate popping out of a cell is a harbinger of danger. There is no clearer indication of a potential threat to the safety and security of the facility than an inmate who can leave his or her cell at will. Correction officers, the inmate population and the citizens of NYC deserve to be safe.

“Object Permanence” is a cornerstone psychological concept in academia pertaining to a child’s developmental stage where it is understood that objects still exist even when they are not perceived. Even though individuals may intentionally close their eyes to avoid seeing an object, the reality is that the object is still there. This security breach still exists despite Brann’s refusal to see it.

Every housing area in DOC is under video surveillance and is video-recorded 24 hours a day and Brann has access to those videos. DOC leadership cannot claim lack of knowledge.

Failure to realize and eliminate this threat is unconscionable and exposes a lack of security acumen by Brann.

“Popping out” is just another example in a long list of failures by Cynthia Brann.


Retired Assistant

Deputy Warden

Department of Correction

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