NYC Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner Louis Molina is moving his office to City Hall. Mayor Eric Adams announced the former NYPD officer’s appointment as assistant deputy mayor for public safety last Monday, Oct. 31.
“After the tremendous success we have achieved at the Department of Corrections to reduce violence and improve safety, I’m honored Mayor Adams has selected me to take on even greater responsibility for public safety in our city,” said Molina. “I returned to the city where I was born and raised to serve in the Adams administration because public safety has been my life’s mission.”
The well-traveled Molina assumed DOC leadership last year. In addition to his stint in the NYPD, both in uniform and as a detective, he’s also a former Marine.
Molina assumes a role under Deputy Mayor of Public Phillip Banks and is “tasked with coordinating with all city agencies on public safety matters to ensure they align with Mayor Adams’s vision to keep every New Yorker safe.” This transfer occurs after Molina reportedly denied rumors of resigning earlier in October. Adams fondly referred to Molina as “Lou” in a statement and described the appointment as a promotion.
“Over the last 22 months, Lou has demonstrated exceptional leadership and dedication as the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, helping to reverse decades of mismanagement and neglect,” said Adams.
But advocates aren’t so glowing about Molina’s tenure, pointing to 19 deaths in or immediately after DOC custody last year and continued reporting of poor jail conditions by a federal monitor installed before his leadership. Another nine people died in or immediately after taken into department custody so far this year; almost all were held at Rikers Island when they died.
“The message that [Adams] is sending to the community and those that are directly impacted by this insidious jail complex is that he really does not care,” said Melanie Dominguez, the Katal Center’s lead organizer. “He really does not care. If he really cared about the community and those that have been impacted [and] that have passed away in New York City jails at Rikers Island, he would hold the commissioner accountable.
“What (Molina has) done in his tenure was he had 28 people pass away in just two years, so it’s infuriating that instead of holding him accountable, (the mayor is) just giving him a cushy job at City Hall.”
Dominguez, a proponent for federal receivership over city jails, said responsibility for Rikers conditions squarely rests with Adams, even before Molina’s transition.
“No matter who comes next or who who’s appointed [as] the commissioner of the Department of Corrections, we are going to continue to make sure that we hold this man accountable in getting us to where we need to be, which is shutting down Rikers, [and making sure change happens], and we urge the judge to appoint an independent receiver,” she said.
Freedom Agenda co-founder Darren Mack, a member of the Campaign to Close Rikers, believes the jail complex cannot be reformed regardless of who takes over.
“I hope that this mayor appoints a new commissioner who clearly understands that Rikers can’t be fixed,” he said. “And not only meet the immediate needs of people detained in custody, but [provide] transparency and [decrease] the population so we can ultimately close Rikers Island.”
Under Molina, the jail population currently sits around 6,000. The borough-based jails scheduled to replace Rikers by 2027 can only hold slightly more than half that number. In a hearing last winter, Molina projected a steady rise in city jail populations.
To be clear, city jail trends are harder to gauge under Molina abecauses he assumed leadership after the COVID-19 pandemic, when detainee populations dropped drastically. There have been marked improvements with staff attendance, but also steady rises in detaining those experiencing serious mental illness.
But generally, concerns about unsatisfactory jail conditions continue to be reported by the federal monitor. The most recent report, which documents this past summer from May to August, found unsanitary conditions, fire safety issues, and airflow deficiencies.
Re/Creation founding facilitator John Proctor, another member of the Campaign to Close Rikers, recalled meeting Molina when he served as deputy commissioner for the Westchester County Department of Correction. Back then, Molina was seen as a model reformer and Proctor initially held high hopes when Adams appointed him. Those expectations are long gone.
“Molina has provided a useful public face as a proven liberal, even progressive administrator, to then do illiberal, unprogressive things as administrator at Rikers,” he said.
The DOC did not comment on the news and referred the request to the Mayor’s Office.
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member who writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.