In the wake of a Village Voice report on violence at a troubled city jail, city and state child welfare authorities should investigate whether adolescents are being abused there, a former high ranking Correction Department official says.
“I’m not just talking about the Administration for Children’s Service, but the state Office of Children and Families, too,” says Edward Gavin, who served key roles in both Correction and ACS and now runs his own private investigation firm. “It’s inadequate guardianship, it’s child abuse and neglect, inasmuch as it’s an unsafe condition for children, and it’s medical neglect, if they aren’t being given medical attention in a timely manner, which is being alleged.”
Gavin, 52, is referring to the Robert N. Davoren Center on Rikers Island, which houses teens and adults, and has been the source of a disturbing number of fights, serious injuries, and stabbings in recent years, and continued inmate extortion, intimidation and violence, as detailed in the Village Voice article. The jail is also being investigated for falsifying and covering up fights and serious injuries.
Gavin was a deputy warden at DOC, rising to commanding officer of the TEAMS unit which roamed the jails making sure that departmental policy was followed.He did two stints in the adolescent jail during his long career. After he retired with 21 years on the job in 2003, he formed a private investigation company. Subsequently, he served nearly six years at ACS, where he supervised all high priority child abuse and neglect cases as acting chief of staff.
Gavin, however, did not lay the blame with Correction Commissioner Dora Schriro, saying RNDC violence has been a problem for several commissioners. “It’s a difficult population. I thought the mayor made a good selection in Commissioner Schriro; she’s a forward thinker, and she’s progressive,” he says. “I think if anyone can resolve the problem, it’s her.”
Gavin proposed a series of fixes to deal with the problem. He suggested the creation of a new adolescent jail violence unit tasked to arrest anyone who commits assaults, gang-related violence, and any conspiracy to deprive inmates of their commissary, their property, food, or the telephone. He added that Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson should be more active in pursuing those types of cases.
“He just needs to focus on the matter at hand,” Gavin says. “If he can direct resources to ticket fixing, he can find the resources to go into RNDC and clean up the mess that’s been going on for years.”
He also said DOC should stop housing adults in the same facility as teens, and there should be a separate facility for adolescents. Noting that the DOC has a warden running the support services division–“aka warden of mops and broomsticks”–he said that position should be moved to RNDC, and there should be warden overseeing the teen population alone.
“The department doesn’t need a warden in support services,” he says. “The commissioner should redirect that warden’s budget line to RNDC.”
Gavin also proposed assigning a minimum of four correction officers to each adolescent housing unit per tour. Finally, he proposed a new justice court on Rikers just to deal with cases of adolescent violence.
As for the investigation into cover-ups of fights and injuries in RNDC, Gavin recounted an incident from 10 years ago in which the jail claimed an inmate had slipped and fallen on his head. But when he interviewed the inmate, he found a gaping wound on the top of his head that couldn’t have been caused by a slip and fall. The inmate finally admitted he had been slashed. Gavin reclassified the cause of the injury from accident to slashing. Some time later, however, another DOC official reclassified it back to an accident.
The lesson he says is, “Obviously, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Unfortunately, people are managing by monthly statistical reports, and so commanders feel pressured to show that jail violence is being sharply reduced, when everyone knows that’s not the case. Commanders are more worried about how it’s going to look to the commissioner and the chiefs, rather than taking the appropriate steps to address the violence.”
Asked about Gavin’s views, Correction spokeswoman Sharman Stein said: “”Ed Gavin retired from DOC as a Deputy Warden nine years ago in 2003. He hasn’t been part of this Department for nearly a decade. He isn’t familiar with DOC’s current operations and activities or our reforms regarding safety and security including those impacting adolescents.”
The support services division oversees the infrastructure and maintenance of Rikers Island facilities–including electricity, water, gas and sewage, the large storehouses, and goods and services contracts.
Steven Reed, a spokesman for District Attorney Johnson, says no one has come forward with any cases which Johnson believes should have been handled differently. “If Edward Gavin has any suggestions, he should be writing to the District Attorney,” Reed says. “There is no need for Mr. Gavin to use the Village Voice as a middleman.”
Gavin adds there’s hope for some of the teens at Rikers. “But if DOC officials don’t take the proper initiative, they will just see a repeat of the last 30 years,” Gavin says. “You never know: some day, one of your relatives could be arrested for DWI, jumping a turnstile, or maybe larceny. You would want that person to be safe pending trial.”