De Blasio appoints Cynthia Brann to head NYC jail system

Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Cynthia Brann as the city's new jails's commissioner on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Photo Credit: Cory Sipkin

The city’s troubled jail system has a permanent commissioner, Cynthia Brann, who was promoted from the acting post after the de Blasio administration looked “far and wide” around the country to fill the vacancy.

Brann, who was a probation and parole officer early in her career and had been the correction department’s acting commissioner since June, was elevated by Mayor Bill de Blasio, he said Tuesday.

Brann had spent 26 years as an official in Maine’s prison system before becoming a top aide to predecessor and fellow Mainer, Joseph Ponte, in 2015.


“We thought she combined alignment on vision with real experience in making the changes and reforms needed,” he said at a police station in Manhattan’s East Village.

“She knew the job. She knew the system. She knew the people. And I like her approach to leadership, and it just makes sense to go forward with her,” he added.

The city’s jail system has long been plagued by violence, mismanagement and abuse. De Blasio has promised to close Rikers Island, the city’s main jails complex, within 10 years.

A federal monitor appointed by the U.S. Justice Department is overseeing the jails. In a 2014 report, the Justice Department said the system reflects “a deep-seated culture of violence” where “staff routinely utilize force not as a last resort, but instead as a means to control the adolescent population and punish disorderly or disrespectful behavior.”

A memo from the mayor’s office said Brann is committed to reducing and eliminating solitary confinement and was instrumental in rolling out a new use-of-force policy approved by the monitor.

Earlier this year, the city’s anti-corruption agency said 21 city correction officials — including Brann and her predecessor Ponte — improperly used official take-home cars for personal trips.

Ponte announced his resignation in May, two weeks after the city Department of Investigation said he violated ethics rules by driving his official car on 18,500 miles of improper out-of-town trips and billing taxpayers for gas and tolls. The department used GPS to conclude that Brann had also misused her official car for personal errands — mostly to Long Island.


As acting first deputy commissioner, she made repeated trips in the take-home car — to the Gallery at Westbury Plaza, Roosevelt Field Mall, Century 21 in Westbury, a Stop & Shop supermarket in Great Neck and the Tanger Outlets in Riverhead, according to the report. She also told investigators that she went on at least one occasion to pick up her husband at Kennedy Airport when he visited from their home state in Maine. Brann paid back the city for those expenses, according to mayoral spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas.

Asked about the scandal, de Blasio said Brann is the best person for the job. Neither Brann nor Ponte could be reached for comment.