New York City Mayor Eric Adams has selected eight-year veteran Lynelle Maginley-Liddie to lead the Department of Correction, describing her as someone who could bring both “professional capacity” and “humanity” to the job.
The appointment, which was anticipated earlier this week following reporting by The City, comes a month after Adams announced that current commissioner Louis Molina will be “promoted” into the new role of assistant deputy mayor for public safety. The role comes with the same salary, but will take Molina out of the trenches of managing the city’s beleaguered jails and into City Hall, where he’ll report to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Phil Banks. Molina has served as commissioner of the Department of Correction since the beginning of Adams’ tenure.
The appointment comes at a difficult time for the department. Calls for a federal takeover of city jails continue to grow, and the federal judge who will ultimately make that decision has raised doubts about just how much progress has been made in making Rikers Island safer for both corrections officers and people who are incarcerated. But Adams remains convinced that the situation in the city jails is improving.
At a press conference on Friday, Adams said that Maginley-Liddie has played a central role in the progress the department has made over the last 23 months. “As we forge ahead, I’m confident that we can restore the department to the levels of greatness we have seen before,” Maginley-Liddie said Friday. “As the commissioner, my focus will be restoration and investment in a safe, secure, humane and supportive environment for each person entrusted to our care.”
Here’s what you need to know about the woman set to take the helm of New York City’s embattled correction department.
Work at the DOC
Maginley-Liddie first joined DOC as an attorney in 2015 and became deputy general counsel in 2018, where she led the department’s general litigation unit. She was later named first deputy commissioner and chief diversity officer. According to City Hall, she also spearheaded department efforts to provide access to COVID-19 vaccinations during the pandemic. Since joining as an attorney, Maginley-Liddie has worked closely on compliance with the consent decree established to make reforms at Rikers in 2015, she said. Prior to joining the department, she worked in the private sector as an attorney at Leader Berkon Colao & Silverstein LLP.
An eye on diversity
Maginley-Liddie’s functions at the Department of Correction have been wide-ranging, but one of her responsibilities as chief diversity officer was leading policymaking for the department’s Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises programs.
Born in Antigua
Maginley-Liddie was born in Antigua, and she immigrated to the United States over two decades ago to pursue law service, she said in an interview with Caribbean Life earlier this year. Her father is a pastor – a fact Adams said “meant a lot” as he considered candidates to replace Molina. She will be the second Black woman to lead the department and was the third woman to serve as first deputy commissioner, according to Caribbean Life. “Two decades ago, never would I have thought that as a child of a pastor from a small Caribbean island I’d be standing here as commissioner of such a great institution in the greatest city in the world,” she said Friday.
A moment of crisis
For about as long as Maginley-Liddie has been working at the Department of Correction, New York City jails have been under the oversight of a federal monitor. A recent federal monitor report on conditions at Rikers Island found that “the jails remain dangerous and unsafe, characterized by a pervasive, imminent risk of harm to both people in custody and staff.”
The Adams administration has continually said that they are making strides towards addressing the violence, dysfunction and staffing crisis at city jails, while the federal monitor says that conditions are in fact getting worse. This summer, federal judge Laura Taylor Swain said that the court would “move towards receivership” if the department fails to make progress. The next hearing before the judge is scheduled for Dec. 14.
Though the federal monitor said recently that the relationship with the department has eroded, Maginley-Liddie touted a “strong working relationship” with the monitoring team. “They know me and my values and commitment. I will strengthen that relationship through continued openness and transparency,” she said in remarks on Friday. “With your support, Mr. Adams, I intend to use my authority as commissioner to access every tool in city government to continue and expand on the progress that we have made to bring about needed reforms.”