DOCS Fact Sheet

Occupancy, Staffing and Safety


Note: The minimum security portion (annex) of Butler Correctional Facility remains open. All of the other facilities identified for planned closure in this Fact Sheet were closed on schedule.

Overview

The planned closure of three correctional camps and seven prison annexes this year has prompted debate over whether New York's State prisons are overcrowded and whether the transfer of approximately 700 inmates from the closure facilities to vacant beds in other correctional facilities, along with the continued use of double bunks and double cells, will create more dangerous conditions within the prisons.

Background

The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association Inc. (NYSCOPBA) claims the State prison system is understaffed and overcrowded, subjecting employees to the most dangerous working conditions ever. The Assembly Minority has scheduled Statewide Forums on Workforce Issues in the Correctional System “to support and improve the safety and security of New York’s detention facilities.” The initial forum was held in Albany on June 2, 2009, with others scheduled to follow beginning July 15, 2009 in Gouverneur and afterward in Wilton, Malone, Newburgh, Buffalo, Utica and Auburn, with a wrap-up in Albany at the end. Topics include how to improve working conditions and make prisons safer for inmates, staff and host communities.

Prison System Occupancy

NYSCOPBA claims New York’s State Correctional facilities are operating, on average, at over 100 percent capacity. The union relies on a more than two-decade-old federally mandated reporting requirement that measures the total number of inmates only against the number of "permanent" general confinement beds – for inmates with no medical, disciplinary segregation or other restrictions - originally created. This statistic does not credit beds created for medical and mental health needs or new segregation cells.

But every day, thousands of inmates are in infirmary beds, mental health observation cells, out to court or serving disciplinary sanctions in Special Housing Units (SHU). There is never a time when every inmate needs a general confinement bed; far from it. In reality, more than 6,000 general confinement beds, and more than 7,000 beds in all, are vacant.

The federally mandated reporting requirement also does not count 2,300 general confinement beds that were originally and are still technically categorized as "temporary" but have been in regular use for years and will continue to be. Those beds are, for all intents and purposes, "permanent" and are in the process of being reclassified as such.

A snapshot of June 1, 2009, shows there were:

New York has more than 6,000 vacant general confinement beds that either already are, or could be, made available. That includes:

As noted above, additional general confinement bed vacancies include:

Additionally, 559 sentenced offenders ready to enter the State prison system were still in local jails awaiting transfer. A conservative accounting shows 1,802 staffed and unrestricted general confinement beds would have been available instantly even if all 559 “State-ready” inmates came into the State prison system immediately.

That explains why the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) can close Camps Gabriels, Pharsalia and Mt. McGregor on July 1, 2009, and the annexes at Butler, Eastern, Green Haven, Groveland, Lakeview, Sullivan and Washington Correctional Facilities on October 1, 2009, without adding a single bed. The annual State taxpayer cost to operate the three camps and seven annexes is approximately $31 million.

Double Bunks and Double Cells

There are 6,657 top beds as part of double-bunk units in the State prison system. The double-bunks are spread across numerous open dormitories and housing units at more than 50 correctional facilities. In prototype dorms, 60 inmates sleep in one large room. There are 10 top beds, all of which are located along the back dormitory wall, allowing the supervising Correction Officer an unobstructed view of every bed. The State Commission of Correction (SCOC), which promulgates minimum standards applicable to DOCS, has recognized virtually all of the double-bunk units as being in compliance with its standards and has approved temporary variances for the remaining 337 units. SCOC had also approved thousands of double-bunk units that DOCS has since removed. All but 123 of the existing 6,657 double-bunk units are located at medium or minimum security correctional facilities.

There are 2,976 double cells spread over 25 prisons. Nearly three-quarters of those double cells - 2,165 - were designed and built as double cells and therefore intended to hold two inmates each. All of the remaining 811 double cells that were originally designed as single cells were authorized for conversion to double-occupancy by the SCOC. The conversion was upheld by the courts. All but 21 of the double cells are maximum security.

Security Staffing and Other Non-Administrative Employees

From December 1999 to May 2009, New York’s State prison population declined more than four times faster than the number of Correction Officer positions. The inmate population dropped 17 percent, while the number of Correction Officer items declined 4.1 percent – and that includes the elimination of 334 Correction Officer positions as a result of the Fall 2008 housing unit consolidations. Because Commissioner Brian Fischer directed that housing units be vacated at facilities where the largest percentage of Correction Officers had left the payroll to retire or pursue other opportunities, the Fall 2008 consolidations did not result in a single Correction Officer being laid off or even required to transfer from one facility to another.

DOCS is working with NYSCOPBA to minimize the impact on staff during the closure process. Efforts include giving employees at closure facilities the ability to transfer to other facilities and, for employees at annex facilities, adding a special August 1, 2009 revision (mid-way between the normal May 1 and November 1 revisions) to re-rank in contract seniority order employees who have voluntarily placed their name on a reassignment list for another facility.

Because of a series of mandates from the courts and the Legislature, DOCS has had to provide significantly increased services and programs for sex offenders and inmates with mental illness over the past two years. For example, the April 2007 Private Settlement Agreement between the State and Disability Advocates Inc. on behalf of inmates with mental illness required the creation of Intermediate Care and Special Treatment Program beds as well as Residential Mental Health Unit beds that are scheduled to open later this year at Marcy Correctional Facility. All of those programs and beds require staff. DOCS has met those mandates by redeploying Correction Officer and other positions from unneeded portions of correctional facilities that are not equipped to provide the new mandated services.

Administrative Staffing

Since April 1, 2008, Commissioner Fischer has reduced the number of administrative employees by 3 percent. During that time, the number of Correction Officer positions declined by 2 percent.

The administrative positions that have been left vacant so far have produced savings of $3.6 million and counting. Vacancies include an Assistant Commissioner and three Director (department head) positions in Central Office, as well as five superintendent and 22 deputy superintendent positions at the 70 correctional institutions DOCS operates.

Safety

Even after last Fall’s consolidations, which increased the occupancy rate in staffed housing units (by filling vacant beds with inmates transferred from the vacated dorms), the number of assaults in prisons is on pace to be lower this year than it was last year (based on complete data through May 2009). In fact, the rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults for the first quarter of 2009 was the second-lowest since 1980. The Department has been free of any major incidents for over 12 years.

According to the most recent report of the American Correctional Association, New York had nearly twice as many Correction Officers per inmate than the national average for state prison systems. New York had one officer for every 3.4 inmates, compared with the national average of one for every 6.7 inmates. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has one officer for every nine inmates. ACA data also shows that only 4.4 percent of New York’s Correction Officers leave State service every year, compared with a national average of 17.2 percent.

There have been approximately nine assaults on staff per 1,000 inmates and 11 assaults on other inmates per 1,000 inmates annually in New York’s State prisons in recent years. Over the last decade, fewer than one percent of those assaults resulted in even a moderate injury to an employee. The number of serious injuries to staff was in the single digits.

DOCS, working with the Governor’s Office and the Legislature, has taken numerous steps in recent years to enhance prison safety, including:

In addition to improvements aimed at protecting staff from and reducing inmate violence, DOCS has also taken these steps to protect and help its employees:

All 69 correctional facilities and the DOCS-run Willard Drug Treatment Campus have been accredited by the American Correctional Association, certifying that each one operates at or above nationally accepted correctional standards. New York’s was the first major prison system in the nation to achieve ACA accreditation for all of its prisons.

 

June, 2009

State of New York
Department of Correctional Services
1220 Washington Avenue
State Campus, Building 2
Albany, NY 12226-2050
Brian Fischer, Commissioner
www.doccs.ny.gov