DOC names new chief of department at time of upheaval on Rikers Island

The Department of Correction announced Kenneth Stukes has been promoted to Chief of Department. (Courtesy of DOC)

The city Department of Correction has reshuffled its leadership at a time of great upheaval is underway on Rikers Island.

DOC Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi promoted Kenneth Stukes to the position of chief of department. With the promotion, the former chief of security becomes the highest-ranking uniformed officer at the agency.

“Chief Stukes is a dedicated public servant who has used every day of his 30-year career to make DOC facilities safer,” Schiraldi said. “As chief of department, Chief Stukes will continue to lead this agency with compassion, fairness and, most of all, integrity. I am thankful to have his partnership as we work to make city jails safer and more humane spaces.”

Stukes joined the DOC in 1987 and rose steadily through the ranks to be promoted to assistant chief of security in 2015 before being named assistant chief in 2016. He served as bureau chief of security before being appointed acting chief of department in July, just as an exodus of dozens of overworked correction officers began to leave for jobs in the NYPD and the closure of the prison complex on Rikers Island began to move forward.

“I am honored by this promotion,” Stukes said. “I know that this will be challenging, but I am eager to play a role in making historic changes at DOC. I want to thank Commissioner Schiraldi for his trust and belief in me. I want to thank my colleagues and all staff who have supported and encouraged me throughout the years.”

Stukes was elevated after Hazel Jennings retired as chief of department on July 2 after her own 30-year career at the DOC. Jennings received a DOC Meritorious Duty award for her leadership when a three-alarm fire broke out on the roof of the George Motchan Detention Center on Rikers Island in 2011. As assistant deputy warden, Jennings ensured that the 241 people in custody and every staff member in the building were safely and securely evacuated.

During his Monday morning briefing on July 12, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the DOC is facing “real issues” and low morale during this time of transition.

“Look, it’s a tough job and it’s been a tough time for the correction department, and we’ve really tried to address a number of the concerns that officers have,” de Blasio said. “Very good news has been that we’ve been able to close down yet another building at Rikers and therefore not need as many officers to cover the inmates we have and also the court system finally coming back to life more. There’s real issues to address and we’ll keep addressing them for sure.”

The DOC announced on July 9 that the James A. Thompson Center has been transferred to the department of citywide administrative services in what is the first step toward closing the notorious jail complex, which was mandated by the City Council’s Renewable Rikers Act.

“For too long, Rikers Island has caused our city pain and heartbreak,” Councilman Daniel Dromm said. “Former Council member Costa Constantinides has given us a plan to begin closing Rikers and using the land for a purpose that will benefit all New Yorkers for generations to come. It is time to begin implementing that plan as quickly as possible. I am excited to work with my colleagues and the administration to finally begin righting the wrongs that have been committed for so many decades. I look forward to the day when there is no jail on Rikers.”

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