Updated, 2:40 p.m.: New York City owes a “debt of gratitude” to Joseph Ponte, the head of the city’s jail system, who is stepping down in the wake of several scandals, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday afternoon.
“New York City owes a debt of gratitude to Commissioner Ponte for his tireless efforts to change the culture and improve the effectiveness of one of the nation’s most challenging jail systems,” de Blasio said in a joint statement with Ponte. “While much work remains, there is no doubt that our city’s jails are safer, more rehabilitative and more humane as a result of Commissioner Ponte’s work.”
The mayor added that he would look for similar “experience and progressive commitment” in Ponte’s replacement.
Ponte first thanked the DOC staff, saying that, “Without their hard work, the comprehensive reforms of the 14-point anti-violence reform agenda would not have gotten off the ground. That agenda is their agenda.”
He concluded by saying that “it was a privilege to work with the men and women of the Department as we reduced violence and the overuse of punitive segregation, brought on 3,700 new officers, retrained a large part of the staff, added thousands of security cameras and provided new opportunities for education and training for inmates, among many other initiatives.”
De Blasio named Ponte commissioner in 2014.
Original article, 12:21 p.m.: The head of New York City’s jails is expected to resign on Friday amid mounting pressure following a series of scandals over the misuse of city property and his department’s spying on city investigators, according to local media reports.
The reports said that Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte will resign following accusations that his department’s watchdog spied on inspectors. Prior to those allegations, a Department of Investigation report had reprimanded him and other officials for improperly using city-issued vehicles for personal travel.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said she could not confirm reports that Ponte will step down. The city’s Department of Correction did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ponte, 70, had planned to retire within the next several months, but decided to leave sooner because the scandals had become a distraction, The New York Times reported, citing anonymous sources.
Among those calling for Ponte’s ouster were City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Still, de Blasio staunchly defended him in a radio interview on Thursday, saying Ponte had acknowledged his ethical mistake, was paying back the city for his personal use of a city-owned car and had made great strides in improving the city’s jail system.
“I think this agency (under Ponte) has done extraordinary work with dealing with decades of mistakes that they inherited,” de Blasio said on WNYC radio. “So, he has my confidence, and I think he’s done really good work for this city.”
De Blasio appointed Ponte in 2014 after making a campaign promise to reform Rikers Island jail, one of the three largest prison complexes in the United States by population.
Ponte has overseen a tripling of the number of cameras at Rikers and organized training for officers to defuse tense situations.
During his tenure, a number of Rikers Island employees have been prosecuted as authorities have sought to stem violence and corruption that have long plagued New York’s main jail complex.
De Blasio, citing falling crime levels that he said portend a long-term trend, declared in March that the Rikers Island complex would close in as little as 10 years.
Metro staff reporter Nikki M. Mascali contributed to this report.