NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio filled four top positions in the city’s criminal justice system Tuesday, appointing the commissioners for the departments of correction and probation, and filling the top slots at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
Prior to the announcement de Blasio and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton pointed to the continuing decline of major crime in New York City. In the first 10 weeks of 2014, major crimes were down 2 percent; homicides and shootings were down 21 and 14 percent, respectively.
On March 5, there were no murders, shootings, stabbings, or slashings reported in the entire city, de Blasio and Bratton said. It is the first such day since police began to keep records.
De Blasio tasked the four criminal justice appointees with reducing recidivism and incarceration rates and increasing public safety.
Joseph Ponte accepted the mayor’s invitation to become the commissioner of the Department of Correction. The department operates the city’s jails and employs more than 10,000 people. New York City jails held an average of 11,827 people on any given day last year.
Ponte is currently the commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. He started his career as a corrections officer, worked his way up to prison warden, and later led corrections systems around the country.
Ponte’s career path is similar to two other de Blasio appointees: Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña and Bratton. Both started in entry-level positions: Fariña as a teacher and Bratton as a beat officer. Like Ponte, both climbed to the highest posts in their departments.
“He has a tremendous reputation for being a diligent manager and someone who focuses on cost effectiveness,” de Blasio said. “Let me tell you, in our fiscal situation I am really glad about that.”
The mayor charged the commissioner with ending the overuse of solitary confinement, limiting the use of excessive force by correction officers, and improving the treatment of the mentally ill.
“For those who came into corrections years ago, these types of strategies—the use of isolation, segregation, and solitary confinement—was what we taught people. The leadership across the country is moving in the direction that we’ve proven ourselves wrong,” Ponte said. “Some of our practices really conflict with our mission. We’re truly trying to make people better.”
The mayor appointed Ana Bermúdez to lead the Department of Probation. The department serves people on probation with a goal to moving them out of the criminal justice system through a variety of efforts.
Bermúdez has more than 20 years of experience in the criminal justice system. Since 2010, she has been the deputy commissioner for juvenile operations at the Probation Department. During her tenure, the rate of juvenile re-incarceration decreased by 25 percent.
“Our department is committed to having our clients thrive, not just survive,” Bermúdez said. “The justice system right now is more known for creating barriers rather than opportunities for success.”
De Blasio worked with Bermúdez at a district school board in Brooklyn. They also both coached local minor league baseball teams.
“School boards are places you find out who people really are,” the mayor said. “There’s plenty of challenges but through it all Ana is one who won respect.”
Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice
Elizabeth Glazer will be the mayor’s senior criminal justice policy adviser. She will be in charge of a citywide criminal justice policy. In addition, Glazer will be the mayor’s representative in the courts, to district attorneys, and in state criminal justice agencies.
De Blasio tasked Glazer with building cooperation between the city’s various criminal justice agencies. “We want that to be the hallmark of our administration—extraordinary leaders of effective agencies all working together for common goals,” de Blasio said.
Prior to her appointment, Glazer chaired the state’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. She was also special counsel to the state’s attorney general.
Vincent Schiraldi, who led the Department of Probation for the past four years, was appointed as the senior adviser to the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.