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Louis Molina

As correction commissioner, he gutted internal accountability structures, shrugged off external oversight, and presided over a department that saw dozens of deaths of people in custody. As jail conditions languished, he took his staff sightseeing in Europe on a $40,000 taxpayer-funded trip. Then he got promoted.


  • U.S. Marine
  • Detective, NYPD
  • Chief Internal Monitor and Acting Assistant Commissioner of the Nunez Compliance Unit, NYC Department of Correction
  • First Deputy Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Correction
  • Chief, City of Las Vegas’s Department of Public Safety
  • Commissioner, NYC Department of Correction


  • Assistant Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, City of New York

Unions representing the guards in New York City jails were supporters of Eric Adams’s campaign for mayor, so when he was elected, Rikers-watchers were curious to see whether the mayor would embrace some of the guards’ union agenda: less oversight, more guards, avoiding the legal commitments to close Rikers. Adams appointed Louis Molina as correction commissioner. A fellow former NYPD cop, Molina had, in the interim, held leadership positions in New York City jails, Westchester jails, and the Las Vegas Public Safety Department. 

One of Molina’s first moves as head of the City’s jails was to fire the well-respected deputy commissioner for intelligence, investigations and trials—the person tasked with rooting out misconduct among jail staff, who union officials felt was “overzealous.” Molina replaced her with his former NYPD squad commander, who eventually resigned under pressure after the federal court monitor overseeing Rikers discovered he’d been leaning on DOC investigators to let violent guards off easy.

As Adams and Molina constantly remind anyone who will listen, Rikers was a human rights catastrophe long before they came along—that’s what led to the landmark civil rights lawsuit and settlement that put Rikers under the watchful gaze of a court monitor in the first place. But while the monitor initially held out “cautious optimism” that Molina was serious about reforms, that ended for good this year when the monitor discovered Molina had been misleading him about incidents of violence in the jails. 

Molina did not respond to requests for comment posed through City Hall.

Molina, right, and Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Phil Banks III, at a press conference. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

Molina tried to prevent people in custody from receiving physical letters from loved ones, after the prison guards union claimed, against all evidence, that letters soaked in fentanyl could pose a mortal danger to correction officers who handled the mail. Concerned that the public was learning more than it should about Rikers from the City’s jails watchdog body, Molina cut off the Board of Correction’s independent access to camera footage, making it more difficult for investigators to look into deaths, abuse, and other misconduct. Adams backed Molina up, and it was only when a rogue faction of Board members took the City to court that camera access was restored.

Some metrics of dysfunction are harder to conceal than others: According to published reports, a staggering 28 people held in NYC jails died on Molina’s watch, a number from suspected drug overdoses (Molina relaxed a ban on guards wearing cargo pants that had been instituted to cut down on contraband smuggling) or by suicide, (sometimes, reportedly, as guards passively looked on). That’s not to say that Molina was transparent about deaths, though: Jail officials initially claimed that Joshua Valles died in custody of a heart attack—but an autopsy later revealed he had a cracked skull and substantial brain injury. Molina urged staff to get a man on the verge of death out of DOC custody so their deaths would be “off the Department’s count.” This year, after the monitor discovered deaths in custody that Molina’s staff hadn’t disclosed, the DOC announced they’d stop publicly reporting deaths in custody altogether.

Bafflingly, Adams and Molina decided the proper response to increasing concern from the monitor was to wage a hamfisted campaign to undercut him in the press. Predictably, this only angered the monitor and the federal judge to whom he reports, leading the judge to finally begin a legal process that could remove NYC jails from City control altogether. Molina’s response was to skip oversight hearings and to take his staff on a taxpayer-funded $40,000 jaunt to Europe, where they met with French and English jail officials and took selfies at tourist spots.

Heckuva job, Louie! Eric Adams watched all this and decided what Molina needed was a promotion. Whatever Molina may lack in management skills, transparency, and concern for the well-being of the people entrusted to his custody, he more than makes up for in the metrics that really matter to Adams: loyalty and the willingness to bend to a constituency to whom Adams owes favors. So soon Molina will be in City Hall, as assistant deputy mayor for public safety under Phil Banks, overseeing not only Rikers but also, Banks announced, “our city’s entire public safety apparatus.” 

But while that promotion was announced October 21, it hadn’t yet taken effect more than a month later, when Molina assured the judge, he’s still in charge as correction commissioner—but not so in charge that he’s responsible for recent screwups like opening a dubiously legal restrictive housing unit without notifying the federal monitor. He didn’t even know about that. That was someone else’s fault.

On December 8, the Adams administration announced the appointment of Molina’s replacement at DOC, Lynelle Maginley Liddie.

Last updated: 12/18/2023


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