NYC DOC newsletter excerpts -- I

These images and texts were scanned directly from various NYC DOC newsletters published under Commissioner Ben Ward. Not every issue published during his more than four years as DOC Commissioner is represented in this necessarily limited selection.

From August 1979 issue of The Pen:

Above is the nameplate for The Pen, the NYC DOC newsletter in place when Benjamin Ward became Commissioner in August 1979. An 8.5x11 b&w publication, it used a three-column layout. That first issue under Ward listed him as "Acting Commissioner."
Since my appointment as Commissioner of Correction, I have had an opportunity to meet some of you.

I am proud to have been selected to lead the dedicated and capable uniformed and civilian staffs that make up the department.

I am convinced that together we can continue to move the department forward in crucial areas.

The head and shoulder portrait that appeared with Commissioner Ward's first NYC DOC newsletter column (above) was used with all his newsletter messages throughout his four years five months leading the agency.

For my part, I bring thirty years of criminal justice experience to the task.

Starting as a police officer in 1951, through my appointment as Deputy Police Commissioner (1968), Commissioner of New York State Department of Correctional Services (1975), and Chief of the New York City Housing Authority Police (1978), I have dealt with the same problems you have faced here.

The Department of Correction has a strong record of professional accomplishments. Each of you, by continuing that professionalism, and by expanding it to apply in new situations, will assure our future success.

I look forward, in the coming months, to working with you and getting to know you. Thanks for your warm welcome.

From January 1980 issue of The Pen:
What It Means To You
by Commissioner Benjamin Ward

0f all the reasons I favor the proposed Rikers Island transfer, none is more appealing to me than the added degree of professionalism that the plan promises to bring to our correction officers and superior officers. . . .

The eight new jails that will be constructed if the plan is approved by the Board of Estimate are being designed on the theory that the officers must be the cornerstone of any successful detention facility -- and I don't mean because they have the keys in their pockets.

The masthead of the August 1979 issue of The Pen -- the first under Commissioner Ward -- listed its staff including Sandra Lewis Smith, currently an Assistant Commissioner. Back then, headquarters was 100 Centre St. Now it's 60 Hudson St.

The sort of smaller, more humane yet more secure and properly located jails that you can look forward to staffing if the transfer plan is approved can already be visualized in the current renovation of work being done on the new Manhattan House of Detention for Men on the site of the old Tombs.

When that new facility opens next January, it will accommodate about 450 detainees with about 35 housed in each unit. The new jails will be similarly designed. . . .

I am the last person who has to tell you that we have been forced by outmoded facilities, budgetary constraints and court decrees into working under some of the most demoralizing conditions imaginable in recent years. Nowhere are conditions more oppressive -- for officers as much as detainees -- as they are on the tiers at the House of Detention for Men on Rikers Island. The ability to finally rid ourselves of the single biggest headache we have -- the daily transport of detainees to and from Rikers Island -- is of course the most obvious rationale for the transfer plan.

But even if that was not at issue, the difference in atmosphere between the present Rikers HDM and the facilities that will replace it is reason enough for every employee of this department who has been, is now or in the future may be assigned to HDM to be solidly in favor of the concept of the transfer. . . .

From February 1980 issue of Inside Out:

A box on the bottom of the front page of the first issue of Inside Out (February 1980), the 4-column 11x17 successor to The Pen as DOC newsletter announced:

"We have a new name, a new look and a renewed commitment to provide the Department of Correction staff with an informative . . . newspaper starting with this maiden issue of Inside Out. . . ."

The Board of Estimate has authorized the letting of six contracts that are designed to provide the city with more detailed information about the proposed Rikers Island transfer before the Board votes on the transfer proposal.

The Board voted unanimously to authorize the Department of Correction and the Department of General Services to enter into consultant contracts after Commissioner Benjamin Ward and Associate Commissioner Sharon Keilin appeared before the Board at its January 24 meeting at City Hall to explain aspects of the contracts.

Three contracts covering four projects were approved February 21st. These are the projects approved by the Board:

  • The construction of three-dimensional models for five sites on which the City has proposed to build eight jails for $351.3 million in the next five years to hold the inmates who will leave Rikers Island if it is leased to the State.
  • A verification of previous estimates of the costs and construction schedules of the eight new jails.
  • Environmental impact studies of the sites where the proposed new jails would be constructed.
  • Prototypes designed to demonstrate what each of two types of new jails -- individual facilities and "paired" facilities -- will look like.
  • Two new appraisals of Rikers Island to help the Board determine if the $200,000,000 lease negotiated with the State is appropriate. . . .

[T]he Board of Estimate decided to authorize the remaining four projects as well as two new appraisals with City funds after individual members expressed concern about two strings the State had placed upon the money it appropriated for City's use. First, the state-financed projects would have been administered by the State Facilities Development Corporation, rather than a city agency. Second, the City would have to reimburse the State for the funds if it ultimately decided not to go through with the transfer.

The masthead of the February 1980 issue of Inside Out -- its first -- listed its staff including Sandra Lewis Smith, currently an Assistant Commissioner.

On the night of the Board of Estimate vote, Queens Community Planning Board No. 1 formally voted to reject the Rikers Island transfer. . . .

DOC Commissioner Ward and State Commissioner Thomas Coughlin III, who continued to appear on a variety of radio and television shows and other public forums to answer questions about the transfer, said they remained convinced that "residents of the local community can look forward to a far more stable and secure neighbor across the Rikers Island Bridge if the state takes over" the Island.

The transfer proposal, which has received overwhelming support from editorialists and criminal justice experts since the City and State reached tentative agreement last fall, continued to gain momentum. . . .

February 1980 Inside Out caption:

Commissioner Benjamin Ward and Chief of Operations Jacqueline McMickens presided over promotional ceremonies at the Correctional Institution for Women on Jan. 11. Those promoted were Deputy Wardens John Incledon. and George Cruz, Assistant Deputy Wardens James Garvey, James Rosas, Vincent Romeo, James Weren and Stanley Boyd and Captains Julius Lesser, John Davis, George Benjamin, Marron Hopkins, Samuel Scarola, David White, William Daly, Raymond Molinaro, Frank Bruni, Vernon Marshall, Leonard Delman, Gerard Falls, Anora Jiles, Arthur Sosa, Anthony Critelli, Mary Marshall, Michael Dillon, Willie Crosby, Walter Johnson, Judy Schlessinger, Angela Paduani, Marion Smith, Joan Kral and James Barlow.

From May 1980 Inside Out:

by Benjamin Ward


Since 1975 a total of 95 inmates have escaped from institutions on Rikers Island.

It is almost beside the point that most of them were recaptured and that more of the rest died trying to make good their escape than reached ultimate freedom. The real problem, from the standpoint of the authorities charged with administering this city's jails, is that those 95 inmates believed they had a reasonable chance to escape from Rikers Island. That is the real crux of the security problem presented by Rikers Island today.

When I took charge of the New York City Department of Correction last August, my two predecessors, Ben Malcolm and Bill Ciuros, each outlined the problem of Rikers' vulnerability to me. But even that did not prepare me for what I found on what is ostensibly a "maximum security" prison island. After all, during 1977, my last full year as Commissioner of Correctional Services of New York State, our seven major maximum security institutions had suffered a combined total of one escape.

When the old Rikers Island Penitentiary was completed in 1933, the Island was considered virtually escape-proof. And that became the basis of its downfall.

October 1980 Inside Out caption:

Commissioner Benjamin Ward, right, and 1st Deputy Commissioner Mark Corrigan during the Managerial Conference.

[Held in May at NYU, it was the first in a series of day-long conferences devoted to the accountability policies and practices.]

Confident that no inmate could swim the torrential waters of the East River, the City was lax in its design of perimeter security for the penitentiary and the five other institutions that were added to the Island complex.

We have started to change that now. A contract has been let for increased perimeter security around the Adolescent Reception Detention Center, including the deployment of a microwave alarm system. Another project about to begin will encircle the House of Detention for Men with an even stronger ring of security.

Eventually, every one of the Rikers Island institutions will have to be so secured -- at a cost the State is prepared to bear if the City agrees to lease the Island to the State, which has promised to reimburse the City for the current work and to completely restore the Island to true "maximum- security" status.

A variety of factors combined to render Rikers Island vulnerable to escape attempts.

The completion, in 1966, of a bridge connecting the Island to Queens was absolutely necessary for accessibility, but it provided one immediate escape access and led to a second by slowing down the East River currents. By then, Runway 22 at LaGuardia Airport already had been extended across the deep channel around the Island. Thus, at a point in the river that was no longer very swift, an inmate who made it to the water's edge now had an apparently attainable target on the mainland. And, to the north, the City had abandoned North and South Brothers Islands, providing the escapee with a way-station for rest and hiding en route to the Bronx if he chose that direction.

October 1980 Inside Out caption:

Commissioner Benjamin Ward, right, Captain Patricia Thomas, center, and Warden Frank Colavito during CIFW's Family Day.

[Held on July 7, it was the first Family Day picnic for inmates and their families at the Correction Institutions for Women on Rikers.]

And at a time when the individual integrity of the Island's institutions had become all the more important, two other factors were limiting the Department of Correction's ability to secure them properly. First, as a result of the City's changing role, the Department was forced to house more and more unconvicted detainees on Rikers Island. These inmates are entitled to far greater public access than sentenced inmates and that has led to a greater flow of contraband, including tools of escape. Second, technological advances, particularly in the jeweler's trade, produced tiny saws, easily hidden and passed during contact visits, that can easily knife through the kind of steel bars we have on Rikers Island.

No maximum security state prison depends on the building itself for its prime source of security. High fences, topped with forbidding "razor ribbon" and manned by armed patrols, tell the inmates that even if they saw their way out of a cell, their path to freedom is still a very difficult one. And, thus, few try.

The prospect that more will try to leave Rikers Island this summer so concerns me that I have moved to strengthen security there in other ways, too. Armed officers now surround the House of Detention for Men during evening hours. A boat with a shallow enough draft to allow it to traverse the scant strip of river between the Island and the airport runway has been purchased from federal surplus stock and will be patrolling the water within weeks.

October 1980 Inside Out caption:

Officers assigned to patrol the waters around Rikers Island check their navigation charts and then take to the high seas of the East River on new DOC patrol boat that was purchased for $500 under a Federal Surplus program. Boat hasn't had the chance to track down any escapees yet, but it has rescued a drowning civilian near La Guardia Airport.

Security of the bridge has been tightened and an auxiliary unfenced employees' parking lot has been closed; City Department of Traffic experts have been consulted with an eye toward devising even tighter security without hampering the flow of traffic. The first of a series of field audits into institutional performance has been completed at our Adolescent center and other audits will be commenced shortly.

But these are essentially stop-gap measures. Ultimately, we know what has to be done to permanently re-secure Rikers Island. Each of those institutions has to be given an impregnable security perimeter of its own, as if it were down the block instead of out there on that East River island. Confronted with a similar situation four years ago when we took control of the Arthur Kill institution on Staten Island from the old State Narcotics Addiction Control Commission, we in the State Department of Correctional Services built double fencing, topping with razor ribbon and surrounded by armed patrols. Under NACC, Arthur Kill had been a virtual sieve. Under the DOCS it has not suffered a single escape since I installed a secure perimeter. The inmates know better than to try.

If Rikers Island is leased to the State, even more sophisticated fencing will be put in place before state prisoners are brought to the Island. Microwave screening systems will be linked to computers, so that alarms will be triggered the moment an inmate enters the space between the two fences that will be built around each institution.

This of course, will take money and the State had pledged to spend $110 million to bolster the present plant on Rikers Island. There are many reasons to be in favor of the lease proposal --including the argument that the island was never designed to be a jail, housing unconvicted city detainees, in the first place. But no argument for the Rikers Island transfer is more compelling than this one: When the State takes over, Rikers Island will again be a maximum security facility.

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