City Jails Get a New Commissioner


The city jails system has a new commissioner.

Dora Schriro, a former special advisor in the Department of Homeland Security, was tapped this week to replace Martin Horn, who has gone on to a cushy job as a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Schriro in the past has also run the Arizona and Missouri prison systems. Back in the 1980s, she was an assistant commissioner in New York City’s jail system. Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona, once described her as “one of America’s leading minds on modern, effective prison management”–the same quote she used when she named Schriro to run Arizona’s prisons.

Schriro has courted controversy in her prior jobs. Back in 2004, a federal judge in Missouri refused to admit sworn testimony from her, saying she and other correction officials can’t be trusted to tell the truth because of previous misleading statements under oath in a lawsuit filed by an inmate, according to a report in the Riverfront Times of St. Louis.

The judge, Carol Jackson, said the defendants, including Schriro, had “demonstrated unreliability.” “It is beyond dispute that defendants’ affidavits contained false statements,” she wrote.

Schriro was also investigated in Arizona for her response to a prison hostage standoff which lasted for 15 days. In that incident in January, 2004, two inmates took control of a kitchen and then a security tower, and held two guards. One of the guards, a woman, was raped by an inmate during the standoff.

Schriro refused to allow a SWAT team to take out the inmates, and sent them pizzas, steaks, baked potatos, cigarettes and beer. Critics said her actions unnecessarily prolonged the standoff, which was called the longest in U.S. prison history.

Schriro also refused to provide the news media with key details about the standoff, including the names of the inmates and guards involved and the details of a grand jury report on the incident.

In 2002, the mayor of St. Louis suspended her for two weeks after five inmates escaped from the city’s jail, the Phoenix New Times reported. Investigators found a range of problems, including broken locks and visitors who were not being searched.

A correction union leader offered Schriro some advice without commenting on the mayor’s decision to appoint her to the post.

“The Department of Correction has some integrity issues they need to deal with,” says Sidney Schwartzbaum, President of the Assistant Deputy Wardens/Deputy Wardens Association. “They need to revamp emergency policies which are outdated. Morale is in the toilet. We need to resuscitate morale in the department.”

Officials with the other correction unions could not be reached for comment.