Amid a city budget crisis, the official who oversees New York’s teetering jail system is visiting the United Kingdom and France this week with a coterie of top Correction Department officials — ostensibly to learn about those nations’ prison operations, multiple correction sources tell the Daily News.
Correction Commissioner Louis Molina was seen Monday at the Tower of London, an historic fort and tourist attraction on the banks of the Thames River that houses Britain’s Crown Jewels and was used as a prison in medieval times. He and his entourage are also expected to visit a jail in Paris this week.
Taxpayers are funding Molina’s trip through the Correction Department’s travel budget — even as Mayor Adams has asked agencies to make cuts across the board as the city struggles with the cost of housing tens of thousands of immigrants.
“They are doing this on our dime,” said an irate Department of Correction source. “Basically (it’s) an all expense paid vacation while the city is doing budget cuts and a hiring freeze.”
The trip also comes as the struggle intensifies in federal court over whether control of Rikers Island and the city’s other jails should be placed with an outside receiver, with a hearing set for November. Additionally, Adams and the City Council are battling over the a law which requires closure of Rikers Island by 2027.
With Molina are his secretary, Diane Davila, and his executive assistant, Devalle Williams.
Also on the trip are Deputy Commissioner Robert Gonzalez, the department’s head of training, and his aide, Assistant Commissioner Jeremiah Johnson, the sources said.
Four assistant commissioners involved directly in operating city jails are also in the entourage, said the sources. They include Sonya Harvey and Antoinette Cort, who are both longtime Correction Department employees; Danielle Davis, who worked with Molina when he was a law enforcement official in Las Vegas, and ex-Connecticut prison official Ned McCormick.
Charlton Lemon, who has been the Correction Department’s chief of security, is the only uniformed officer on the trip, The News’ sources said. Lemon holds the rank of warden.
In a statement, DOC spokesman Frank Dwyer confirmed that Molina, three assistant commissioners, a deputy commissioner and an acting chief are on the trip. It was unclear why his accounting of the number of people on the trip differed from that of The News’ sources.
A request to fund the trip was submitted to City Hall officials on July 18 and approved on Aug. 15, the statement said.
“Molina and members of his executive team are visiting with correction and law enforcement officials in London and Paris, touring facilities, and sharing best practices on facility management, safety, and security,” Dwyer said.
“They have toured multiple jails and met with local officials there discussing training, jail/prison security, management of populations with gang affiliations and more.”
It is Molina’s first trip to jails outside the U.S. He previously visited the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta on Aug. 1 and the Cook County Jail in Chicago Aug. 10 to Aug. 12.
Adams laid out an austerity plan to city agencies on Sept. 9 that included a ban on out-of-state travel. Adams’ spokespeople declined to comment on how the overseas visit corresponds with the mayor’s focus on trimming budgetary fat at city agencies.
It’s unclear what the British and French jails have to offer that the New York City jails do not.
Penal facilities in London have had a rough time of late. A British legislator, Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party, on Monday said investigations into suicides at the Wormwood Scrubs jail in London are taking too long.
Slaughter called the 10 suicides, or “self-inflicted” deaths in UK parlance, between 2018 and 2022 “unacceptably high,” the BBC reported. A probe also found “inadequate care, fear and confusion” at the jail, the BBC said.
The New York City jails had 10 suicides in the same period with 8 of the 10 in 2021 and 2022.
Britain’s system has also experienced a high-profile escape. A former British soldier turned terror suspect named Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, escaped dressed as a chef from the Wandsworth Prison in London Sept 6.
Khalife was accused of planting fake bombs on a British military base, CNN reported. He jumped into a delivery van and disappeared, prompting a huge manhunt that ended with his recapture three days later on Sept. 9.
In France, prisons are bursting at the seams, with their population at 120% of capacity, news reports say. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly criticized “degrading conditions” in French jails, the article noted.
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