The 10 years from 2008 to 2018 when Michael Sposato oversaw the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department were marked by big cost savings, waves of inmate deaths, and fierce opposition to his leadership by the Correction Officers Benevolent Association and prisoner advocates.
Nassau officials would have been wise to take a closer look at that record before giving him the keys again.
Sposato started work at the jail in 1994 as a cook, then became a kitchen supervisor. In 2005, then-Sheriff Edward Reilly made Sposato his chief of staff. He was later promoted to undersheriff, the jail’s No. 2 spot. The union fought Sposato’s elevation on the basis that he’d never been a correction officer and that he rose thanks to political connections. And COBA rebelled against his leadership because, union leaders said, he had cut expenses so severely that it endangered members and inmates.
The four suicides among inmates at the Nassau jail between January 2010 and January 2011, which represented 10% of all such suicides in the state over that span in a facility holding just 1.7% of New York’s prisoners, seemed to bear that out.
Another stain was the state Commission of Correction’s determination that four additional inmate deaths between 2011 and 2014 could have been prevented had the jail’s medical-care provider, Armor Correctional Health Services, not been inadequate.
Sposato’s plan — bringing in Armor to replace the Nassau University Medical Center in providing care — saved $7 million annually. The reduction in overtime created by the change, because Armor treated prisoners at the East Meadow site while NUMC demanded they be brought to the hospital, saved another $10 million annually.
Now Sposato, named commissioner of corrections by County Executive Bruce Blakeman this month, is again overseeing the jail and the union is again furious. Members just voted down a new contract, adding tension. But COBA President Brian Sullivan has said he has no issue with Blakeman’s pick for sheriff, Anthony LaRocco, indicating the animus toward Sposato is not reflexively anti-management.
To be fair, the Nassau County Correctional Center was deeply troubled long before Sposato took over. The jail buildings, one from the 1950s and another from the 1990s, are crumbling. And both the jail and the medical care provided by NUMC were under federal oversight for a decade after correction officers beat an inmate to death in 1999. The Justice Department found that the jail’s internal investigations, its use of force, and its medical care needed overhauls. That oversight was lifted following some improvement, but new spates of prisoner deaths followed a few years later.
In a news conference last week, Blakeman said his three priorities for the jail are protecting the community, its 730 officers, and its 760 inmates.
But his decision to again give Sposato authority over the jail looks purposely provocative, politically motivated, and potentially dangerous.
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