The New York City Department of Corrections (DOC) hired at least 88 people to be correction officers despite red flags in their past. According to an article published by the New York Times, the Department of Investigation released an in-depth review of the DOC’s hiring practices. The review revealed a wide-scale failure to screen new job candidates.
Per the Times report, the investigation focused on the correction officers the DOC hired in 2016. In that year, the DOC hired 291 new employees. 88 of those 291 individuals were people whose red flags should have precluded their hiring or demanded that they be “closely monitored” by the DOC. Red flags for those 88 hires included gang connections, domestic assault and harassment charges, and inappropriate relationships with parolees.
The Department of Investigation report showed that 84 DOC hires had arrests on their records, and 78 had been fired from previous jobs for one reason or another. 117 of the correction officers hired by the DOC in 2016 had either friends or relatives who were incarcerated in the system.
This report does not represent the first time the DOC has been criticized for poor recruit screening policies. In 2015, the Department of Investigation prepared a similar report. The findings were similar as well, showing red flags in correction officer backgrounds and raising the question of whether the DOC was even running background checks at all.
Based on the recent Department of Investigation report, things have not improved in the past three years. Investigators concluded the DOC’s Applicant Investigation Unit is still relying mostly on an honor system when screening new hires. Candidates are asked to self-report criminal histories, connections with inmates, and more. The 2018 report also indicates the DOC is not conducting field visits with applicants, not verifying details with previous employers, not verifying personal information through public record databases, and not looking at phone records to check for relationships between inmates and candidates.
In other words, there is no system in place to verify what recruits are saying about themselves; the DOC is taking its candidates at their word. There is a good reason other employers rely on hiring due diligence measures like the employment verification check we offer at backgroundchecks.com. This type of screening, or a check of references, can help flag candidates who were fired from previous jobs under notable circumstances.
In numerous instances, the DOC has ignored previous recommendations from the Department of Investigation. After the 2015 report, the Department of Investigation recommended the DOC computerize its records. Three years later, the DOC is still using a paper-based filing system.
Mark Peters, the commissioner for the Department of Investigation, said that the DOC’s failure to establish a system for consistently screening new hires is “at the root of every other problem we have with the city’s jails.” Those issues include contraband smuggling, violence against inmates, invasive strip searches of jail visitors, and other instances of corruption.
The DOC responded to the investigation by claiming it has “tightened up its hiring practices” since the recruitment class of 2016. The DOC also said it would cooperate with the Department of Investigation to look at employees who were flagged in the 2018 report.