Nassau County Sheriff Vera Fludd is finally getting out of jail.
The 58-year-old Freeport resident who became Nassau County's first woman to head the correctional center retires at the end of the month after a 35-year career, and she seems ready for a new stage in life after her trailblazing role.
“I did my time and I’m finally being released,” Fludd joked in a recent interview inside the sprawling Nassau County Correctional Center where hundreds of inmates are held in East Meadow.
County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, appointed Fludd to the position in January 2018. Fludd gained the unanimous approval of the county legislature for the $168,000 per year job two months later.
The county has launched a search for her replacement, which comes at a time when major changes in the state’s criminal justice law have focused on reducing the inmate population by releasing people charged with misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies without bail.
Fludd became a correction officer in 1984 after graduating from Nassau Community College and rose through the ranks, working in nearly every unit at the jail, before becoming acting sheriff.
She succeeded Sheriff Michael Sposato, appointed by former Republican County Executive Edward Mangano. Democrats in 2017 called for Sposato to resign after six inmate deaths and a string of other scandals at the jail.
Fludd was three months away from retiring before Curran appointed her to the sheriff position. She said among the most rewarding parts of the job has been to watch an inmate take advantage of programs and rehabilitate him or herself.
“At some point in my career I worked in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation treatment program. I used to just listen and hear the stories of what they were doing in the streets and a counselor would come in and tell them they had the same experience and you don’t have to live that way. It was inspiring to encourage people to get their lives in order,” Fludd said. “We have a lot of good days here.”
During her time, several repair projects were put in motion, including upgrades to storm water drainage, facade repairs and lighting replacements. A new shelter for visitors is being built. A new inmate tracking system, a project that languished for eight years, has finally been implemented.
Under Fludd, three classes of new recruits graduated — one of them the largest in a decade — adding about 90 new correction officers.
The county jail currently has about 900 employees and about 850 inmates, down sharply from the fall when more than 1,100 were held there before the implementation of the new state law.
Fludd’s administration also began incorporating mental health first-aid training into the recruit training curriculum, and equipping staff with Narcan training and overdose prevention kits.
She also has been praised for working well with community groups and faith-based organizations.
“Vera Fludd has been a trailblazer who paved a path for others to follow. She has always made safety her first focus, while striving to promote professionalism among all her staff members,” Curran said. “I join many others in celebrating her distinguished career, and I thank her for her extraordinary service to the people of Nassau County.”
“It’s been a pleasure to work with her,” said Commissioner Daniel Donahue of the correctional department. "She’s kind, conscientious, extremely fair, she has a wealth of knowledge and experience.”
Michael Golio, the Sheriff's Department's investigator captain, started on the same day as Fludd as a young correction officer. He pointed to her welcoming management style as a boost to the morale of jail employees.
“She has handled an extremely difficult job with ability and grace,” Golio said. “Her open-door policy and her approachability and her willingness to hear opinions from all staff works to everyone’s benefit.”
In July, however, Fludd received bitter criticism from the union representing correction officers.
At the time, Brian P. Sullivan, president of the Nassau County Sheriff’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said her 18-month tenure was plagued with problems that had led to, among other issues, a spike in gang activity and more weapons being confiscated inside the jail.
“We wish Vera well in her retirement and we are all anxiously looking forward to getting a corrections professional in here so we can get this department and facility back on track,” Sullivan said last Thursday.
County officials said they have more than 50 resumes, with 10 to 15 candidates meeting the minimum requirements for the sheriff’s job.
Fludd said she hopes her successor continues to improve the facility and she will always have a special interest in making sure the jail runs well. She and four of her siblings have made careers there.
She plans to take time to enjoy her retirement with her husband, Richard. She also intends to keep busy with her eight children, two of whom are still in grade school.
“In this job, you do what you can do. You get things set up and hope for the best,” Fludd said. “At the end of the day, I leave it at the traffic light on the way home. You just got to.”