By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than one-third of jail guards recently hired by the New York City Department of Correction had problems including gang affiliations, criminal histories and significant psychological problems, the city Department of Investigation said on Thursday.

In a review of more than 150 recent applicants, the department found red flags that should have disqualified more than a third of them from policing the problem-plagued city jails or, at the very least, prompted further review, the report said. Instead, all were hired.

Investigators found hiring practices in such disarray that staff in charge could not decipher the applicant evaluation system, which used a scale of 1 to 5, saying they were not sure whether a 1 or a 5 was the best score.

 

The DOI report said 10 of the new hires had been arrested more than once, 12 had been previously rejected by the New York Police Department, including six for psychological reasons, and 79 had relatives or friends who were current or former inmates. Despite changes in the screening process, the report said dozens of staff still had gang affiliations.

"Applicants with a history of violence or gang affiliations should not be patrolling our jails," DOI Commissioner Mark Peters said in a news release. "Positions as law enforcement officers demand better."

The report comes a month after federal authorities announced they would sue the city over widespread violations of civil rights of teenage inmates at the Rikers Island jail complex. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for New York's southern district, said they were acting to end a pattern of violent abuse of adolescent male inmates by guards and others held at Rikers.

Other recent investigations by the city Department of Investigation have resulted in guards charged with smuggling contraband, falsifying documents and evidence and using excessive force.

All of the applicants reviewed in the DOI report were hired before the current correction commissioner, Joseph Ponte, took office in April 2014.

Ponte said he had begun taking steps recommended in the report for improving the hiring process, including beginning to screen applicants for gang membership and re-establishing a recruitment unit that had been disbanded in 2009 because of budget concerns.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Bill Trott)