Eric Adams taps Las Vegas Public Safety Chief to lead NYC jails

Louis Molina previously worked for the New York City Police Department and the city’s Department of Correction.

The Manhattan Detention Complex in lower Manhattan.

The Manhattan Detention Complex in lower Manhattan. STUDIO MELANGE/Shutterstock

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams has appointed Louis Molina, chief of the Las Vegas Department of Public Safety, to lead New York City’s jail system as the next commissioner of the Department of Correction.

Molina, a Bronx native and former New York City Police Department detective and U.S. Marine veteran, will return to the DOC where he previously worked as chief internal monitor and acting assistant commissioner for the department’s compliance unit from 2016 to 2017, according to his LinkedIn page. He joined the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission as first deputy chief of the uniform services bureau’s enforcement division and served as first deputy commissioner for the Westchester County Department of Correction from 2018 to 2020 before heading to Vegas. 

Adams formally announced Molina’s appointment, which was first reported by NY1, at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Thursday morning. Molina will become the first Latino to lead the DOC, Adams said, noting his goal to diversify agency leadership with brass that has both “emotional intelligence” and “cultural competency.”

“Our future criminal justice system must be transformed … when you look over what has happened in our correctional facilities, it did not start this year. It did not start last year,” Adams said. “There has been an erosion of our correctional facilities for years. And we have ignored cries from inmates. And we have ignored cries from correctional leadership.”

“We must reform Rikers and uphold the rights and dignity of the people that are held in custody. And the men and women who are responsible for protecting them,” he said.

Molina joins the department amid a humanitarian crisis at Rikers Island, brought on by a staffing shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 16 inmates have died in the city’s jails this year, despite a federal monitor overseeing the jail system since 2015. In just the past five days, two Rikers inmates have died: 55-year-old William Brown and 28-year-old Macolm Boatwright.

Molina could potentially be tasked with closing the island jail complex in favor of borough-based facilities, a repeated promise made by Mayor Bill de Blasio that was delayed last year until at least 2027. Adams has also said he supports closing Rikers, pending further discussion with the City Council, but noted that “we cannot wait. Now we must have changes on Rikers Island.”

Molina vowed to take swift action to carry out Adams’ blueprint, noting “the need for reform of our city jails has never been more urgent.”

“We will change the culture of our criminal justice system to emphasize the need for holistic rehabilitation over the punitive policies of the past,” Molina said at the Thursday press conference. “For too long, we have managed our public safety approach with slogans and not science, and our strategies to improve safety, security, as well as programs and support, must be evidence based.”

Molina will replace existing Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, who took over in May and has repeatedly clashed with the correction workers’ union over reform-minded policies, including the elimination of solitary confinement, a controversial practice the New York City Board of Correction voted to end in June. 

Adams on Thursday said Molina will work toward boosting morale among correction officers, while also announcing plans to reinstate solitary confinement, the practice of holding inmates in isolated areas of the facility alone for extended periods of time as punishment.

“We have staff being assaulted on the island. There are violent people, a percentage, on Rikers Island,” Molina said. “And we need a method and a restricted housing solution for them in order to make sure that they don't hurt or injure anyone else.”

Adams added: “You can have segregation without it being inhumane. We're not talking about going to the days of being in a hole. We're not talking about locking someone into a small cell without allowing them out.”

The Correction Officers Benevolent Association President welcomed Molina and said he is “hopeful” he “is willing to work in collaboration with us to restore safety, security and sanity to our jails,” Benny Bocio Jr. said in a statement. 

“It is no secret that for the past eight years, our essential workforce has been put through hell and has been forced to work under intolerable conditions by an administration who viewed us as expendable,” Boscio said. “Now more than ever, we desperately need a proven law enforcement leader who understands the gravity of the crisis we’re in.”