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When the Going Gets Tough, Rikers Head Louis Molina Goes to Europe

The guy who has presided over 27 deaths in custody is “sharing best practices on facility management, safety, and security” with his counterparts abroad.

4:42 PM EDT on September 21, 2023

Louis Molina addressing the Board of Correction. (Hell Gate)

By many indications, things are not going well in the New York City Department of Correction. People held in DOC custody were stabbed or slashed 45 times in August, nearly twice as many times as the month before, and there were 6,182 fights in the City's jails in August, 101 more than in July. The share of department staff calling in sick each day is down from its wild peak last year, but is holding stubbornly steady around seven percent. Meanwhile, the department's efforts to retain control of the City jails and stave off a takeover by a federal court are stumbling badly, thanks in large part to DOC's own hamfisted efforts to spin the press and hide the ball from the federal court monitor. Paul Shechtman, a well regarded lawyer who joined the Correction Department to much fanfare in 2022 to help it navigate its legal troubles, has decided, City and State reported, to get the hell out of there after barely a year.

Situations like this call for a strong leader, a leader willing to assemble a trusted team of three assistant commissioners, a deputy commissioner, and an acting chief, and to take all of those colleagues with him on a taxpayer-funded trip to England and France.

That's just what DOC Commissioner Louis Molina did this week, as the Daily News reported. Molina and his entourage are "touring facilities and sharing best practices on facility management, safety, and security," a DOC spokesperson confirmed to Hell Gate. "They have toured multiple jails and met with local officials there discussing training, jail/prison security, management of populations with gang affiliations and more."

What facilities is Molina visiting? With whom is he meeting and what exactly are they talking about? We asked the DOC these questions, but they wouldn't tell us. We do know one detention facility Molina has taken time to tour: The Daily News sighted Molina at the Tower of London, whose penological innovations mostly date to the 17th century, and which hasn't been used as a prison since World War II.

The timing of the trip is raising eyebrows. Earlier this month, Mayor Eric Adams restricted out-of-state travel for City employees, as part of his latest ratcheting up of austerity measures. A DOC source told Hell Gate that Molina's European journey, which is paid for out of the Correction Department's travel budget, was requested in July and approved by City Hall in August, before the latest restrictions were instituted.

Still, it would be reasonable to assume that City Hall was contemplating the travel restrictions when it approved Molina's request. Does Eric Adams really think that the best thing Molina and his staff can be doing right now is jetting around Western Europe? We asked City Hall, and did not immediately receive a response.

Meanwhile, unsubstantiated rumors have been floating around that Molina may soon resign. (These rumors were elevated on Thursday by a cryptic letter to the editor from the disgraced former head of the correction officers'' union Norman Seabrook, in which he wrote that "to the extent that Commissioner Louis Molina has submitted his resignation, it would be regrettable if the mayor accepted it.") DOC Spokesperson Frank Dwyer flatly denied the rumors. "This is false," he wrote in response to a Hell Gate query. 

Things may be looking grim at the Department of Correction, but Louis Molina isn't going anywhere.

Except England. And then France.

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