Photo Courtesy of Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office
De Blasio (r.) appointed Ponte commissioner of the City Department of Correction back in 2014.
By Michael V. Cusenza
Embattled City Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte announced on Friday that he is retiring effective immediately.
“I want to thank the uniformed and non-uniformed staff of the Department of Correction for the tremendous job they have done over the past three years to bring about meaningful reform and build a culture of safety at the department,” Ponte said in a statement made public last Friday. “Without their hard work, the comprehensive reforms of the 14-point anti-violence reform agenda would not have gotten off the ground. That agenda is their agenda.
“I am happy to have spent the last chapter of my career in New York City,” he continued. “It was a privilege to work with the men and women of the department as we reduced violence and the overuse of punitive segregation, brought on 3,700 new officers, retrained a large part of the staff, added thousands of security cameras, and provided new opportunities for education and training for inmates, among many other initiatives. I’m confident that all the hard work we’ve accomplished has positioned the department for even more meaningful reform in the days ahead. It has truly been my honor to serve as commissioner of the New York City Department of Correction.”
The City Department of Investigation recently revealed that Ponte, 70, used his City-issued car for personal business on several occasions.
“I do believe that Commissioner Ponte should step down,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said last week. “Obviously there’s just been a lot that has been going on in the agency, and I think that it’s demonstrated that it has compromised the ability to move forward.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who named Ponte City jails chief in 2014, struck a defiant tone when addressing calls for the commissioner’s ouster.
“I think this agency has done extraordinary work dealing with decades of mistakes that they inherited, and finally making profound changes on Rikers Island, in particular,” de Blasio said on “The Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC-FM last Thursday. “I really think people are missing the forest for the trees. Joe Ponte made a mistake; he’s acknowledged it, he’s paying back for the mileage. I’m convinced he did not mean to do anything wrong.”
De Blasio also issued a statement on Friday.
“Joe Ponte has spent his life reforming jails. New York City owes a debt of gratitude to Commissioner Ponte for his tireless efforts to change the culture and improve the effectiveness of one of the nation’s most challenging jail systems,” the mayor said. “While much work remains, there is no doubt that our city’s jails are safer, more rehabilitative, and more humane as a result of Commissioner Ponte’s work. As we continue the search for our next commissioner, I will be looking for the same experience and progressive commitment to smart, effective correctional policy that Commissioner Ponte’s career has epitomized.”