Rikers Boss Steps Down -- After 2-Year Voice Series

Rikers Boss Steps Down -- After 2-Year Voice Series

City Correction and Probation Commissioner Martin Horn, one of Mayor Bloomberg's longest serving appointees, announced his resignation today. He's leaving a jail system that for the last two years has been the subject of Voice stories about corrections officers condoning and even arranging violence by inmate gangs.

As expected, Horn will take a job at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he will be a distinguished lecturer starting in the fall. The move had been in the works for some time, but when the Voice asked the college about it a month ago, a spokeswoman refused to comment. He will leave his current post on June 30.

After William Fraser was ousted for using correction personnel to do improvements on his home, Horn, a former high-ranking state correction official, was appointed to helm correction in January, 2003.

Bloomberg considered Horn such a catch that he allowed him to receive both his commissioner's salary and his government pension--a deal he granted only to emergency management chief Joe Bruno and fire commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. Critics called that "double-dipping."

Bloomberg also allowed Horn to simultaneously run two agencies -- correction and probation.

The past few months have been bumpy ones for Horn, following the murder last October of a teen prisoner at Rikers, though his aides denied that his departure had anything to do with the fallout from the killing.

Eighteen-year-old Christopher Robinson was murdered in the Robert N. Davoren Center, a jail for teenagers. Gang members beat Robinson to death. The gang members had been deputized by guards to enforce discipline in the unit under something called "The Program."

Robinson's death was followed by the indictment of three officers for organizing "The Program," in which they picked several inmates to ride herd on other inmates in exchange for allowing them to extort fellow prisoners of telephone and commissary privileges. The guards allegedly taught the inmates how to beat people in ways that would not show obvious injuries.

The Voice had been writing articles for some 16 months prior to Robinson's murder, which highlighted the problem of guards colluding with inmates. Those articles, coupled with the indictment of Correction Officer Lloyd Nicholson in February, 2008 offered ample warning that there was a problem in RNDC. Nicholson had also been running a similar "program," where he used inmates to enforce discipline.

Three days after the Robinson murder, Horn had even more proof, records show. Internal interviews with dozens of inmates confirmed that "program"-style beatings were widespread within RNDC. Several inmates even named other guards who had been involved in the practice.

The Voice articles and other public attention led to a shuffling of senior and middle-management staff, several city council hearings, a new law requiring more public disclosure of conditions within RNDC and in the teen jail population at large, and in general put pressure on the Bloomberg administration to focus on the situation in RNDC.

In the newspaper's most recent article, the Voice disclosed that more than two dozen teens had suffered broken bones, broken eye orbitals and broken jaws in the first 10 months of 2008--a record that one expert called "off the charts."

In addition, the article disclosed that Horn's two top aides, facility operations boss Patrick Walsh and Chief of Department Carolyn Thomas, had been briefed and seen reports, which repeatedly suggested that inmate gangs were running the units in RNDC.

Horn shifted Walsh to a lesser, though still senior position, and left Thomas in place. His failure to discipline them was quietly criticized within the department.

Horn also tried to blunt the outcry over the Robinson murder by forcing the retirement of a chief and transferring several other middle management officials, including, ironically, two assistant deputy wardens who had earlier reported guards for colluding with inmates. And he insisted that he had done a range of things throughout his tenure to reduce inmate extortion of other inmates.

The Bronx District Attorney's Office and the Department of Investigation are still investigating whether the practice of guards colluding with inmates was more widespread. The two offices are also looking into the death of inmate Clarence Mobley, 60, who died from a tear in his liver after he was restrained by correction officers on May 2.     

Overall, Horn enjoyed a good reputation as correction commissioner. Most recently, he approved a number of programs designed to improve conditions in RNDC. He was also trying to get the Brooklyn House of Detention reopened, in part to ease of the burden on relatives of inmates tired of the onerous trek to Rikers Island.

Horn served longer than any jails commissioner in 50 years, and thus, one could argue that his departure was overdue. Mayor Bloomberg lauded Horn's "grit and effectiveness," for making the jails safer and coming up with innovative programs.

"Crime in the jails has dropped markedly, with far fewer escapes, suicides, homicides and inmate assaults than in previous periods," Bloomberg said. "And with his support, we have kept driving down crime across the City, and kept making the safest big city in the nation even safer."

Horn also noted his accomplishments. "We have made real a commitment to safety and security as the first rights of those in our jails," he said. "We have broken ground in programs that are giving offenders a chance to resume productive, law-abiding lives."

No word of Horn's replacement, though the mayor's office says Bloomberg will fill the correction and probation posts separately.

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