Centennial Issue Letter From Mayor Giuliani
The June 1995 special Centennial issue of Correction News carried the following letter from Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani:
Dear Commissioner Jacobson,
I welcome the opportunity that this special Centennial edition of Correction News gives me to highlight again the important work of our dedicated Correction professionals.
In City Hall ceremonies last month proclaiming National Correctional Officers Recognition Week, I noted that this year marks your Department's 100th anniversary as a separate City agency. I remarked how, with courage and commitment, Correction personnel have made and are making a vital contribution to the safety of our City.
Your Centennial Edition serves to renew a realization, worth sharing, that this continuing contribution is part of a proud tradition of service having roots deep in New York's history. An appreciative City salutes our Correction Department on the occasion of its Centennial.
June 5, 1995
On Wednesday, June 5th, 1895, in Albany, then-Governor Levi Morton signed into law Chapter 912 (of the statutes enacted at the 118th Session of the New York State Legislature). Chapter 912's preamble described the law as:"an act to abolish the department of public charities and correction in the city of New York, and to provide for the establishment of two separate departments in place thereof, to be known respectively as 'The department of public charities of the city of New York' and 'The department of correction of the city of New York,' and to define the powers and duties of such departments."
It declared that the terms of office of the commissioners of the old combined department "cease and terminate on and after midnight of the 31st of December following passage hereof." In effect, it required the New York City mayor appoint a Correction Commissioner and three Public Charities Commissioners by Dec. 21, 1895, to assume those offices Jan. 1, 1896. The term of office was set at six years until appointment and qualification of successors. The per annum salary for charity commissioners was set at $5,000, and for the correction commissioner, $7,500.
Chapter 912 gave the public charities department "charge of all hospitals, asylums, almshouses and other institutions belonging to the city or county of New York which are devoted to the care of the insane, the feebleminded, the sick, the infirm, and the destitute, except the hospital wards attached to the penitentiary and to other prisons and institutions under the direction of the department of correction."
The chapter gave the Correction Department commissioner "all the authority concerning the care, custody and disposition of all criminals and misdemeanants in the city and county of New York which the commissioners of public charities and correction now have ... He shall have the general charge and direction of all prisons and other institutions for the care and custody of criminals and misdemeanants which belong or shall belong to the city and county of New York. Said department shall be authorized to demand and receive all fines imposed for intoxication and disorderly conduct . . . "
The law authorized the Correction Commissioner to arrange to provide inmate labor for the service needs of the Charities Department institutions' "grounds and buildings" but not "in any ward of any hospital." It required the City to devise a plan for dividing properties and personnel of the combined department between the two emerging departments: "In such plan the city prisons, the penitentiary and the workhouse, with the grounds thereto appertaining, and the stone quarry on Blackwell's island, and Riker's island, shall be assigned to the department of correction."
Among assignments to Public Charities were "the hospitals and asylums on Blackwell's island, Ward's island and Randall's island, the branch lunatic asylum on Hart's island and the farm at Central Islip, Long Island."
Further sections of the chapter provided for the eventual realignment of island properties so that Blackwell's island would become, in effect, more within Charities Department jurisdiction while Rikers and Hart's islands would become more within Correction Department jurisdiction.
Fusion Mayor Reformed DOC&C
Mayor William L. Strong, who came to power as a Fusion candidate fielded in 1894 by reformers, fathered the emergence of Correction as a separate City agency. A businessman nominally Republican, he ran with corruption fighter Democrat John W. Goff and named a former U.S. Civil Service Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, to steady the then scandal-rocked Police Department.
In his first annual message to the Common Council, submitted January 8th, 1895, shortly after taking office, Mayor Strong declared: "I am clearly of the opinion that the care of the indigent should be separate from the discipline of those who have broken the law. To continue these branches together prevents proper assistance to those incapable of self-support and prohibits the best results from being obtained from corrective discipline."
With such mayoral encouragement, the state Legislature passed the agency division bill. In order for it to become law, City "acceptance" had to be communicated officially to Gov. Levi Morton, a prerequisite to the latter signing it into law. Since Mayor Strong had advocated, encouraged and supported the legislation, his formal approval was a foregone conclusion. Nevertheless, on May 7, 1895, he conducted a hearing, as legally required, on whether the City wanted the legislation signed into law. After leading social reformers spoke in favor of approving the bill and no one spoke in opposition, the mayor declared: "I have given this bill a great deal of consideration and I am entirely in accord with its provisions. I shall, therefore, take great pleasure in approving the bill."
When on Dec. 21, 1895, in compliance with the new law's provisions, the mayor named the new commissioners of the separated agencies, he remarked that the management history of the combined agency had not been satisfactory but that he expected the new leadership of the new agencies would bring major improvement.
A few weeks later in his annual message, January 1896, he noted: "On the first of this month the provisions of the statute passed at the last session of the Legislature went into effect, dividing the then existing Department of Charities and Correction into two separate departments, to be known as the Department of Public Charities and the Department of Correction. Provision was made for three Commissioners of Public Charities and for one Commissioner of Correction. These appointments have already been made.
"I am quite sure that our citizens generally do not appreciate the magnitude of the present departments referred to, or the work imposed upon the former Department of Charities and Correction. The management of the City Prisons, the care of the insane and paupers, and the care of the Penitentiary, together with the hospitals, covers already about 17,000 people, when originally not a quarter of that number was in contemplation.
"The condition of our City Prisons, to speak broadly, is execrable, and the accommodations in the Alms-house and Workhouse insufficient, inadequate and incomprehensible, while overcrowding is a startling characteristic of the penitentiary. The division of Charities and Correction and the increased appropriations for these departments is proper and necessary, and will, I believe, obviate many of the criticisms heretofore properly posed."
Committee of 70 Advocated Splitting DOPC&C
Splitting the Charities/Correction Department into two distinct agencies was among the reforms endorsed by a group known as the Committee of Seventy formed Sept. 6, 1894, by many of the City's leading citizens -- Democrats, United Laborites, and independents as well as Republicans -- meeting in Cooper Union.
Their choice of name was deliberately designed to evoke memories of an identically-named committee that had defeated "Boss" William M. Tweed's Tammany Hall machine in 1871. As in the earlier era, disclosures of institutionalized corruption in City government spurred the various anti-Tammany forces to put aside differences, this time to unite in battle against another machine in the Tweed mold headed by a successor "Boss" -- Richard Croker, a former Fourth Ave. Tunnel youth gang leader.
On Sunday, March 13, 1892, the Rev. Charles H. Parkhurst, head of the Society for Prevention of Crime, preached a sermon at his Madison Square Presbyterian Church charging City Hall, Tammany and the Police with protecting criminal elements. He backed up his accusatory rhetoric with sworn affidavits from private detectives he had hired and accompanied as they investigated the links between vice houses, station-houses and political clubhouses.
The Parkhurst sermon and affidavits fired public indignation prompting a probe in the spring of 1894 by a state legislative committee. The vigorous and uncompromising efforts of its chief counsel, Democrat attorney John Goff, uncovered systemic police and political corruption raking in more than $7 million annually and involving payoffs for promotions up the ranks.
Among Mayor Strong's most important appointments was naming Theodore Roosevelt as Police Commissioner. Former Assemblyman Roosevelt, who served as U.S. Civil Service commissioner in President Harrison's administration, promoted the merit system approach within the Police Department as Commissioner.
-- Thomas McCarthy, NYCHS webmaster