Officers Hope Double Bunking Law Slows Prison Closures | New York State

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Top prison officers hope a new law banning double-berth accommodation in state prisons will help slow pending prison closures and reduce the record number of violent attacks on staff.

Governor Kathy Hochul signed a bill sponsored by MP Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake; and Senator Luis Sepúlveda, D-Bronx; Wednesday night which prohibits the practice of double bunking in the 50 correctional facilities in the state.

The double bunking increases the number of inmates housed in a medium security dormitory typically designed to accommodate up to 50 people incarcerated to between 60 and 90 men or women, impacting on proper supervision and the safety of inmates and prisoners. agents.

“Double bunking is an outdated and dangerous practice that has absolutely no place in our current prison system,” Jones said in a statement Thursday. “For 20 years, I worked as a correctional officer and experienced firsthand the stress and hard work that this job entails.”

Senator Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to end double bunking.

“Double-layered inmates make it very difficult for correctional officers to observe an area and needlessly expose them to increased danger,” Jordan said in a statement Friday. “And, in the era of COVID, double bunking inmates makes no sense from a public health perspective. With fewer inmates in public facilities, DOCCS should distribute the prison population, so that our courageous public security professionals are not exposed to more violence and unsafe working conditions.

Officials from the State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents New York’s 18,000 correctional officers, said on Thursday they hoped the law would help distribute those incarcerated in institutions and slow future ones. closures of medium and minimum security establishments.

“We hope that a well-spaced prison population will be a much safer model and safer working conditions where I don’t think you would have to close a facility,” NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said Thursday. “We consider this a real victory, and we are very hopeful, quite frankly,” he added. “Instead of a 60 for 1 [inmate to officer] ratio in a housing unit, we can reduce it to 30 or 33 in each housing unit can create a much safer rehabilitation model and create safer working conditions for our members. We thank Governor Hochul for signing this law. We are enjoying our dialogue with her lately.

Last week, Hochul confirmed that it would follow its predecessor’s plans and announce the closure of several facilities this year.

“We must stop the [former Gov. Andrew] The policy of the Cuomo era of continually closing correctional facilities, ”said Senator Jordan.

The language of the 2021-2022 state budget adopted by the legislature allows the governor to permanently shut down facilities with 90 days notice until the end of March 2022, meaning that closures must be announced by December 31 .

“What I found is that there are a lot of facilities, especially in the upstate, that are only half full,” she said on October 27. “We will consider a reduction initiative.”

DOCCS and Hochul office officials on Thursday declined to answer several questions about which prisons were targeted and when.

Powers and other union members are kept in the dark about future closures. Members usually learn of facility closures when DOCCS makes a public announcement.

DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey responded with an identical statement the department provided to statewide media about potential closures since June, about the department carefully examining the operations of its 50 prisons in view of a possible closure.

“This review is based on a variety of factors including, but not limited to, physical infrastructure, program offerings, level of safety of facilities, specialized medical and mental health services, other facilities region to minimize the impact on staff, potential reuse options and areas. state where previous closures have taken place to minimize the impact on communities, ”Mailey said.

The department will offer affected employees a voluntary transfer or priority employment at other facilities and state agencies after a shutdown, and does not anticipate any related layoffs.

Hochul’s office referred additional questions to DOCCS statements.

Fourteen of the 20 state prisons and penal institutions closed over the past decade have been in the upstate or north of Dutchess County.

Additional closures were due to be announced in June under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a bid to shut the facility down by Labor Day, but no announcements came. Cuomo left office in disgrace on August 23.

The closure of establishments will result in a reduction in the number of available medium security beds. Union officials hope the new law will prevent the department from shutting down more facilities, or at least delay closures until next year.

Violent crime has increased in cities across the state and nationwide in 2020 and 2021, which union members say could lead to an increase in the prison population.

“They could bring back the double bunking scenario, but this law statutorily says they can’t do it,” Powers said of the need for officials to take their time to shut down any facility.

The need for additional facilities to remain open to accommodate a growing number of incarcerated people is not a concern for the department, as authorities are considering further prison closures.

“Most of the double beds have already been taken down and the incarcerated population continues to decline,” Mailey said.

While planning for additional prison closures last week, Hochul also noted the need to ease the burden on the local economy and job losses when a state prison permanently closes.

“The governor recognizes the violence in our prisons and recognizes the need for change,” said Powers. “We are a player in the hall, and we weren’t even a player in the hall [under Cuomo]. We hope to be in this administration, or at least a voice to be heard.

“The governor sees it, these lawmakers don’t see it.”

ENDING THE ERA OF PRISON HOUSING

Inmates are housed in dormitories or cells designed for a maximum of two people.

The State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision authorized the double isolation of incarcerated New Yorkers in the 1980s, when the state’s prison population peaked at 72,773 in 1999.

The total incarcerated population in state correctional facilities was 31,501 as of Thursday, including a reduction of more than 12,700 since Jan. 1, 2020 and the lowest incarcerated population since 1984.

The population has shrunk by 56% since the department’s summit in 1999.

“The safety and security of staff and the incarcerated population in our correctional facilities is a top priority for the department,” said Mailey. “Due to the drastic drop in the incarcerated population, in 2020 the DOCCS removed approximately 3,000 upper berths from medium security facilities, making all of these dormitories with a maximum capacity of 50 people and allowing greater distancing social. “

The practice was also largely eliminated from state prisons last year to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“The department has maintained a very small number of double beds in some medium security facilities,” Mailey said. “Over the next 90 days, DOCCS will evaluate these berths and anticipate minimal impact.”

The department would not say which facilities have double bunk beds or provide the exact number of beds remaining.

“As noted above, there are a very small number of double beds left and the department anticipates minimal impact on compliance,” Mailey said.

Violent incidents in penal institutions against staff and other inmates continue to reach historic levels. Authorities hope the ban on double bunking will be a step in mitigating the attacks.

DOCCS reports 939 attacks by incarcerated persons against prison staff in 2021 as of Monday – on track to reach or exceed 1,047 attacks in 2020, an all-time high.

Violent assaults between prisoners are also on the rise, with 1,204 incidents reported in 2020.

“There is no longer any consequence for violent activity in prisons,” Powers said.

The department reported 99 attacks on staff statewide in the past month.

“The safety and well-being of our staff and those in prison is our top priority,” Mailey said. “The department has zero tolerance for violence within our facilities and anyone guilty of misconduct will be punished. If justified, incidents will be subject to external prosecution. “

DOCCS continues to struggle to attract and retain prison staff, resulting in shortages and officers working double or triple shifts.

“With regard to the alarming rise in violence at our facilities – at the local Brookwood Secure Center on Rikers Island – the state must LISTEN to the public safety professionals who walk the halls,” said Senator Jordan, who urges them State officials to increase full-time prison staff relative to more secure ratios. “Their frontline real-world public safety experience is invaluable. “

Tuesday’s election showed strong support for Republicans – potentially indicating a “red wave” in next year’s 2022 midterm races, which union officials say will push public support for the progressive reforms away. criminal justice.

The law banning double bunking is a rare reform of the criminal justice system that appeases both the right and the left.

Hochul, a centrist Democrat running for re-election in 2022, said in a webinar Thursday that she would support moderate criminal justice reforms going forward, but stressed the need to support law enforcement and to keep the police fully funded.

“I am wired to know that my responsibility as governor is to do whatever I can to work with our local governments, whether it is New York City, the City of Buffalo or the Town of Watertown to protect the people. in their homes and on the streets as they walk to their businesses, ”she said. “Otherwise, we won’t have the full recovery we need. “

Union members will push lawmakers to pass legislation in the next session to conduct a study on violence in state correctional facilities. Legislation to conduct the study has failed for several years, and stalled in the Committee on Victims of Crime, Crime and Correction this session.

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