Thursday, October 30, 2014

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DOC Welcomes New Members as Rikers Faces Increased Scrutiny

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The Department of Correction shined the spotlight on its newest members as leaders of the agency strongly defend its troubled track record. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.

The city's newest correction officers took to the job with plenty of pomp and circumstance—and no shortage of bad publicity.

"They say we are violent, untrained neanderthals. Controversy and negativity sells. But don't believe the hype. I'm here to tell you that is not the truth," said Chief William Clemons.

The 142 newly minted officers enter a department that's under federal investigation for allegedly violating the rights of inmates at Rikers Island.

"According to our investigation, for adolecscent inmates, Rikers Island is broken," said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

It's also an agency primed to cost the city more money, with city Comptroller Scott Stringer saying there's been a 37 percent increase from last year in the number of injury claims filed against the Department of Correction.

"Many of these claims are impacting the most vulnerable within the prison system—young people languishing in solitary confinement, people with mental illness. Obviously, these trends suggest real trouble at the Department of Corrections," Stringer said.

Corrections officials are highlighting what they say is their commitment to improving the agency, and how teen-aged inmates are treated.

"One lesson I learned long ago is not to worry about what happened yesterday, but to learn from those events to make it better tomorrow," said Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte.

The new officers also received pledges of support from top brass and union leaders.

"You go in there with courage. You go in there and you do a job that most people in this world would never dream of doing, or have the courage of doing," said Correction Captains' Association President Patrick Ferraiuolo.

The head of the correction officers union said the new recruits can help restore the department's reputation by conducting themselves properly while on duty.

"Our job is not to abuse anybody, to beat anybody, to stomp anybody out. But I will tell you the same thing I told you on day one—you use what ever force is necessary to terminate that incident, and once that incident is over, it's over," said Correction Officers' Benevolent Association President Norman Seabrook.

For an agency coming under increasingly heavy scrutiny, the troubles are likely far from over.

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