Jail Watchdog Caught Snoozing

Underfunded, inept board just lies there while Bloomberg implements draconian rules in city's huge system

Soon after she arrived, she began to push for changes to the jail system's "minimum standards" that make them harsher.

"At first, she got nowhere," says Horan, whose term was not renewed. "There were enough of us to resist it, until they got rid of us."

Simmons, who has had a long career in corporate philanthropy, says she's outraged that anyone would question her independence. "I am offended by the notion, given my professional background," she says.

Predictably, Feinblatt defends the board's response, saying, "The Board of Correction has gone to great lengths to solicit input from all interested parties. By going far beyond what is required, the board will surely know the views of a wide cross section of individuals prior to its vote."

The struggle over the minimum standards, meanwhile, has raised deeper questions about the board's overall effectiveness. Under the city charter, in addition to its power to set minimum standards, the board has broad powers to inspect any jail, examine any DOC records, subpoena witnesses, conduct investigations, write reports, hear grievances, probe complaints, and evaluate the department's performance.

But there is little evidence that the board has used those powers in recent years. No one can recall the last time the BOC issued a public report on the jails or did an investigation. A special meeting in June was the first public hearing on a single subject in many years.

One other note: Last week, just a month before the looming November vote, the board abruptly canceled its October meeting. Not enough members were planning to show up.

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