New Prison Chief Is a Son of the System

For Daniel Martuscello III, New York prisons are a family business.

Chris Gelardi   ·   June 28, 2023
A headshot of acting prison commissioner Daniel Martuscello III overlayed on a group of corrections officers standing in a row.
The Martuscellos are a DOCCS dynasty. | Photos: NYS DOCCS | Illustration: Maia Hibbett

You might say Daniel Martuscello III was born to run New York’s prisons.

His father was a prison superintendent. Four of his younger siblings and an in-law work for the prison system. At least three more used to. And when Martuscello took over as head of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) earlier this month, he had a brother and a sister flanking him in the agency’s executive offices — both recently made assistant commissioners.

Formerly DOCCS’s second-in-command, Martuscello took the reins from his old boss, Anthony Annucci, on June 9. Annucci spent nearly four decades at the agency, including as its top lawyer, and his tenure as chief saw widespread officer abuse, cruel conditions, and deep resistance to oversight. He earned a reputation as a prison institutionalist.

Yet Martuscello, eldest son of an Empire State prison dynasty, is even more rooted in the system. His family is established and ascendant, climbing DOCCS’s ranks while New York authorities take the agency to task.

Martuscello’s family has had particular influence among DOCCS’s embattled internal investigations department, which saw a series of scandals in the 2010s. A state investigation unearthed allegations that Martuscello’s brother, a former investigator and now assistant commissioner, tampered with his personnel records. (DOCCS said the allegations were “unfounded.”) When the agency overhauled the department, Martuscello became a public face of the agency’s attempts to fix itself.

It’s unclear what impact the agency’s attempted reforms have had: Media and state investigations suggest that DOCCS remains lax on corrections officer misconduct. Nor is it clear how long Martuscello will lead DOCCS. The title he assumed, “acting commissioner,” is legally temporary — but Annucci was able to keep it for a full decade. Governor Kathy Hochul’s office wouldn’t say when she planned to nominate a permanent successor, nor whether Martuscello is on the shortlist.

Julia Salazar, the chair of a key Senate committee that would consider a nomination, urged Hochul to look for outside leadership. Appointing “the second person in line, who’s been present for all of that stagnation … would be a disservice to the department,” she told New York Focus.

“There were so many officers who were married to each other, related to each other.”

—Serena Martin-Liguori, New Hour

Some watchdogs who have worked closely with Martuscello expressed optimism about his tenure, however temporary. He “has been very forthcoming and receptive to our concerns,” said Karen Murtagh, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York. Jennifer Scaife, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, described him as “accessible, forthright, extremely competent, and an effective communicator.”

“He knows DOCCS from top to bottom,” Scaife said.

Others see that as part of the problem. “This entrenched, maybe even inappropriate cross-family connection is frankly alarming,” said Serena Martin-Liguori, a former associate director at the Correctional Association and now executive director of New Hour, a support organization for women and children impacted by incarceration.

DOCCS pointed out that it’s common for law enforcement, particularly prisons, to be a family affair. But that fuels a culture of impunity, said Martin-Liguori, who attended monitoring visits for the Correctional Association and has been incarcerated in New York herself.

“I’ve seen it first hand,” she said. Abuse of incarcerated people often went unaddressed because “there were so many officers who were married to each other, related to each other. It’s almost impossible with that conflict of interest — the nepotism of it all creates the opportunity.”

In a statement, DOCCS said that the Martuscellos “have dedicated their lives to public service and are proud of their work in DOCCS.” The agency said that Martuscello has an affidavit on file that defers any “employment related matters” involving his family to the department’s general counsel.

Asked if the new chief would speak with New York Focus, DOCCS said, “We respectfully decline the interview.”

The Martuscello prison legacy began in the late 1960s, when Martuscello’s father, Daniel Jr., started work as a corrections officer. Over nearly five decades, he rose through the prison and parole agency, “holding every security title,” according to his obituary, until he was appointed superintendent of Coxsackie Correctional Facility, a maximum security men’s prison in the northern Hudson Valley.

Daniel Jr. had six children, the first of whom was Daniel III. The second-born, Christopher, eventually joined DOCCS’s internal investigations department, while the third, Catherine, joined the prison nursing corp. His next daughter, Angela, didn’t get a job with DOCCS herself, according to available records, but she married a Coxsackie guard. And his two youngest started with DOCCS as teachers in the early 2010s.

Martuscello kicked off his prison agency career as a corrections officer in 1997. Four years later, he moved to administration, eventually getting bumped to manage all personnel matters as director of human resources.

In 2014, scandal roiled DOCCS’s internal investigations department. The state inspector general and attorney general found that the office, tasked with uncovering prison agency misconduct, was mired in its own slew of sexual misconduct cases and coverups. Two Martuscellos were allegedly implicated.

According to records obtained by the Albany Times Union, a witness claimed that Christopher, then a deputy in the investigative department’s narcotics unit, had likely tampered with Martuscello’s personnel records in 2011, while state officials were vetting one of his promotions. DOCCS told New York Focus that the inspector general deemed those allegations “unfounded.”

In 2010, Daniel Jr., the father and then still Coxsackie superintendent, supposedly had a woman acquaintance whom he had hired sleeping in his office and sharing his parking space. When the witness, a member of the investigative office, sent someone to poke around, he said that Daniel Jr. berated him and told him that he could no longer file for overtime pay.

DOCCS investigated those allegations itself, finding the woman guilty of “time and attendance abuse,” for which she was fined $450, and parking in Daniel Jr.’s spot, the agency told New York Focus. She resigned before DOCCS could interview her about sleeping in his office, so those charges went “unsubstantiated.” DOCCS investigators found “no wrongdoing” on Daniel Jr.’s part.

Three men in suits, including former acting prison commissioner Anthony Annucci and acting prison commissioner Daniel Martuscello III, stand at a memorial ceremony in Albany.
Daniel Martuscello III (right) stands with his old boss, Anthony Annucci (left), at a 2018 memorial ceremony for parole and corrections officers in Albany. | NYS DOCCS

The investigations department, state inspectors concluded, was rotten. So when Annucci, Martuscello’s old boss, took over DOCCS a decade ago, he undertook a major overhaul. He brought in outside leadership and renamed the branch the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), promising “greater accountability and professionalism.”

Martuscello became a face of that promise. The Marshall Project and The New York Times highlighted the supposed sea change in a 2016 article, which opens with a dramatic portrait of Martuscello amid chin-high filing cabinets and a “pep talk” he gave OSI’s 150 members. He called out the corrections officers’ union, whose aggressive use of mandatory arbitration has long prevented DOCCS from disciplining — let alone firing — abusive or corrupt guards. “We will do anything necessary,” he said. The investigators gave him a standing ovation.

Last month, the outlets published a follow-up. Their investigation found that DOCCS rarely tries to discipline officers who abuse incarcerated people: In nearly nine out of 10 cases where the agency paid cash to settle lawsuits over abuse, it made no attempt to discipline officers involved. When it did want to fire guards, the union overpowered it another nine out of 10 times.

In a statement, the union’s president, Michael Powers, told New York Focus that representatives “look forward to continuing the open dialogue” with Martuscello.

Staff conduct may not have changed, but the Martsucello family’s jobs had. In 2017, Martuscello became executive deputy commissioner, the agency’s penultimate position. By that year, one of his teacher siblings landed a job as a “training specialist” in the central office. And Catherine, the oldest sister, made even bigger leaps: from nurse and health education coordinator to DOCCS’s director of correctional nursing services.

“It’s clear that an immediate and sustained response is needed.”

—Lucy Lang, New York Inspector General

The greater Martuscellos also rose through the new OSI. By 2015, Martuscello’s brother-in-law, then a Coxsackie corrections officer, had become a DOCCS investigator. Since last year, he was promoted to assistant deputy chief of OSI’s Sex Crimes Division, which investigates sexual misconduct between staff and incarcerated people.

And Christopher, who was accused of record tampering during his brother’s promotion a decade earlier, became an assistant chief of investigations.

By that point, DOCCS had again attracted the attention of state authorities for its internal accountability failures. In February 2022, Lucy Lang, Hochul’s appointee for state inspector general, created a new position to oversee the hundreds of yearly complaints her office receives about DOCCS.

Lang’s office investigates malfeasance among more than 100 agencies, commissions, authorities, and public benefit corporations; major state infrastructure projects; and welfare and gaming fraud. Even with that breadth of purview, 57 percent of the complaints the inspector general received in 2021 — the only full year for which such numbers are available — were related to DOCCS.

“It’s clear that an immediate and sustained response is needed,” Lang said at the time.

Lang’s office has since found worsening racial disparities in officer discipline of incarcerated people and likely instances of workers’ compensation fraud so rampant that they “outpace the resources available to combat them.”

DOCCS leadership, including Martuscello, has remained resistant to outside intervention. In March 2022, the state enacted a landmark reform law restricting the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails. As a New York Focus series of investigations has shown, DOCCS has routinely violated nearly every major facet of the law. Martuscello has tried to rationalize the obstinance. In a hearing in February, when asked why the agency has been sending hundreds with mental illnesses to solitary in violation of the reform law, Martuscello misconstrued what the law dictates — a go-to tactic for the agency. Annucci, then in charge, sat back with his arms crossed.

In an earlier hearing — about sexual assault in prisons and jails — Martuscello hailed the staff of OSI’s Sex Crimes Division, of which his brother-in-law is now assistant deputy chief, as “some of the most experienced and well-trained investigators in the nation.” He blamed mandatory arbitration for keeping credibly accused officers on the job — but most cases never make it to that point.

Legislators are now considering a bill that would limit OSI’s powers of self-regulation and give the state inspector general the power to investigate prison sexual assault.

It’s likely that Martuscello will lead DOCCS until at least 2024, when the state legislature reconvenes and will be able to schedule confirmation hearings on the eventual commissioner nominee. A main hurdle for any nomination will be the Senate corrections committee, which will grill the chosen candidate and decide whether to recommend them for a full chamber vote.

Last year, committee members declined to recommend Annucci — so Hochul yanked his nomination and allowed him to continue as acting commissioner. But that playbook might not work for his successor. In February, an Albany judge deemed Annucci’s 10-year, legally temporary reign a “constitutional failure” and denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging it.

Salazar, the corrections committee chair, indicated that Martuscello would face long odds.

“I want to see a commissioner who can demonstrate from their record professionally that they are dedicated to transforming a broken agency,” she said. “But I haven’t seen that commitment from anyone in DOCCS top brass.”

Chris Gelardi is a reporter for New York Focus investigating the state’s criminal-legal system. His work has appeared in more than a dozen other outlets, most frequently The Nation, The Intercept, and The Appeal. He is a past recipient of awards from Columbia… more
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