Joseph Ponte, who was appointed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio three years ago to end the chaos at the Rikers Island jail, is stepping down as correction commissioner today, the New York Times reports. The move came amid revelations about mismanagement and dysfunction at the highest levels of the city’s jail agency. Ponte chose to leave even though de Blasio has repeatedly defended him in recent weeks in the face of calls for his resignation over a series of apparent ethical lapses. Two city investigations accused him of misusing his city vehicle, spending extended periods out of state away from his job overseeing the jails and failing to notify city officials about an effort by his internal affairs staff to spy on city investigators.
Ponte, 70, had planned to retire in the next several months but decided to leave sooner because the growing scandals had become a distraction. The resignation will be seen by some as a tacit admission that de Blasio’s heralded effort to reimagine and eventually close Rikers, a centerpiece of his political agenda, has stalled before he stands for re-election. The mayor must also contend with persistent violence in the jails and misconduct in the officer ranks. Under the leadership of Ponte, who has spent nearly 50 years working in prisons and jails, education and mental health programs have expanded, and New York City became the first large jail system to ban the use of solitary confinement for inmates under the age of 22. Most experts agree that no one person could have fixed all the problems plaguing Rikers Island. The infrastructure is too dilapidated; the inmates too unruly; the guards too poorly trained and brutal.