Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Department of Correctional Services Response to the
Report of the Assembly Republican Task Force on
Workforce Issues in the Correctional System
March 2010

The Assembly Republican Task Force on Workforce Issues in the Correctional System held a series of public forums around the State in the summer of 2009. Although Department of Correctional Services officials did not testify at these forums, DOCS provided each Task Force member data and documentation in advance of each session detailing the agency’s position on the issues identified by the panel (Appendix A). The Task Force released its report in March 2010. The following summarizes the main assertions and recommendations in the report (italicized), followed by DOCS’ responses.

Assertions:

1. The Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) has maintained unsafe inmate-to-staff ratios.

Each correction officer in New York is responsible for supervising far fewer inmates, on average, than are officers in other states. According to the most recent data compiled by the American Correctional Association (ACA) from September 30, 2008, there were 3 inmates per correction officer in New York compared with a national average for state prison systems of 6.5 inmates per correction officer. Both the New York number and the national average take into account that inmates must be supervised around-the-clock, requiring multiple shifts of officers. As of April 1, 2010, DOCS employed 18,797 correction officers to supervise 57,481 inmates. DOCS also employs more than 1,900 additional uniformed employees with the rank of sergeant or above who are responsible for the supervision of inmates.

2. DOCS has allowed the double-bunking of inmates.

There are 6,129 double-bunked units in the State prison system. Almost all 6,129 top beds are approved and sanctioned as meeting all applicable standards and requirements set by the State Commission of Correction (SCOC), the agency that oversees all state prisons and county jails. The only exceptions are 305 beds for which DOCS has been granted temporary variances by SCOC. Every correctional facility in New York has achieved accreditation scores well in excess of 90 percent by ACA, which considers double-bunking and other factors in determining accreditation scores.

Double-bunking should not be confused with double-celling, which involves the housing of two inmates in the same cell and is found almost exclusively in maximum security facilities and maximum security disciplinary Special Housing Unit cell blocks. By contrast, double-bunking is located within large dorms and rooms of varying sizes predominantly within medium security and minimum security facilities.

Limited double-bunking, as is the case in New York, is an accepted correctional practice that is commonplace in all state prison systems across the nation. In a typical prototype 60-bed dormitory in New York, 40 stand-alone beds are located on the floor and 10 double-bunk units are placed along the far wall, allowing the supervising correction officer an unobstructed view of every bed, as illustrated in the following photographs:

Photo of dormitory in a New York State correctional facility

Photo of dormitory in a New York State correctional facility

SCOC standards that have been in effect for 15 years allow each dorm to hold as many as 60 inmates. And since all prototype dorms also meet the SCOC’s floor space and sink, shower and toilet ratio requirements, no variances are required.

Throughout the late 1990s, DOCS did need SCOC variances for thousands of additional double-bunks to house as many as 71,538 inmates by the end of 1999. At that time, DOCS placed additional security staff in each dorm. The Department later withdrew the additional employees when the dorms were reconfigured to hold no more than 60 offenders each.

3. DOCS has failed to maintain the required number of Crisis Intervention Personnel.

Crisis Intervention Unit (CIU) personnel are made up of security and civilian staff trained in negotiations and other techniques at every prison to defuse situations before the use of force is needed. There is no “required number” of CIU personnel. But as of March 2010, DOCS deployed 421 active CIU team members throughout the State prison system, plus another 60 members who are trained and available to respond to specific emergencies. These members are not assigned to specific “CIU posts” in facilities, nor are CIU members exclusively security personnel. Because of DOCS’ commitment to keep the CIU program sufficiently staffed, Commissioner Brian Fischer approved a second CIU training session in 2008 to augment the program’s regular annual training session. It was the first time a second session was held in 20 years. The number of CIU personnel at any given point in time can fluctuate based upon staff promotions, transfers and retirements.

4. DOCS has downgraded certain violent incidents by not reporting them as assaults.

Not only does DOCS not downgrade violent incidents, DOCS’ threshold for an assault by an inmate is well below the threshold for assault as defined in the State penal law. For example, DOCS would consider an inmate throwing an empty milk carton or a dinner roll at a correction officer as an assault. Nonetheless, DOCS takes all assaults on staff seriously and responds appropriately.

5. Prisons continue to operate at 102 percent capacity.

DOCS is operating below 89 percent of capacity, with more than 4,600 vacant beds in staffed housing units throughout the prison system as of April 1, 2010. The 102 percent capacity figure is not an accurate measure of prison capacity. It compares the total number of inmates against the number of originally created “permanent” general confinement beds, which are used only by inmates with no medical, disciplinary segregation or other restrictions. It does not count thousands of existing beds that were created for medical and mental health needs or disciplinary segregation sanctions. The 102 percent statistic also does not count 2,084 general confinement beds that were originally and are still technically categorized as “temporary” but have been and will continue to be regularly used. DOCS is in the process of working with SCOC to reclassify these beds as “permanent.”

6. More than 15 superintendents live in taxpayer-financed homes on prison grounds.

Thirteen superintendents live in State-owned homes, though only eight live in superintendent’s residences, including one superintendent who shares the residence with another staff member. Like all DOCS employees in staff housing, all superintendents pay rents set by the Division of the Budget. All of DOCS’ 24 superintendent’s residences (including two that have been converted to other uses and one that was shut down) are at least 40 years old. Many were built when the earliest prisons were constructed, during a time when transportation and communication were a challenge and there was a need for the warden to live on-site. The others were already on the grounds when DOCS took over facilities from mental hygiene and other agencies. Most superintendent’s residences are located on the grounds of, or connected through their infrastructure to, a prison, making them essentially unmarketable. DOCS is exploring the possible sale of some staff housing buildings that are not connected to their prison and are, therefore, potentially marketable. The superintendent’s residences represent a small fraction of DOCS’ more than 1,200 staff housing units, about 970 of which are occupied by uniformed personnel and approximately 100 by civilian line staff.

7. Excessive overtime pay (as evidenced by large amounts of overtime to certain nurses who work at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, for instance) shows that DOCS has cut too many vital positions.

In the case of nurses at facilities such as Bedford Hills, DOCS has not cut positions at all. Conversely, DOCS is trying to hire more nurses, but private agencies pay more than the State in that region and, as a result, it has been difficult for DOCS to attract and retain enough nurses to avoid overtime. DOCS must ensure sufficient nursing coverage to comply with its constitutional mandate to provide health care to all inmates. Since the Legislature added Labor Law Section 167 in 2008 to ban mandatory overtime for nurses, DOCS is fortunate that it has nurses on staff at Bedford who willingly volunteer to work overtime as needed.

Elsewhere, DOCS has consolidated infirmaries and is continuing to consolidate under-populated inmate housing units to reduce the number of correction officer posts that must be filled, thus reducing overtime.

DOCS supports aligning workers compensation benefit levels for NYSCOPBA members whose injuries are not related to inmate contact or inmate actions with the benefit levels in place for members of other employee labor unions. Such parity would save State taxpayers millions of dollars by reducing the need for overtime while not affecting benefit levels for injuries sustained by NYSCOPBA members as a result of inmate contact or inmate actions. Nearly three quarters of all workers compensation claims filed by correction officers and sergeants (2,006 accidents in 2009) are unrelated to direct inmate contact or inmate actions. Workers compensation resulted in 1.2 million man-hours lost last year. Differences between the NYSCOPBA and civilian union benefits are as follows:

  NYSCOPBA PEF/CSEA
Day 1-5 Full pay, no charge to accruals Full pay, charge to accruals*
Day 6-182.5 Full pay, no charge to accruals** Paid a reduced salary by the State Insurance Fund (SIF)
Day 182.5-365 Charge accruals then sick leave at half-pay as available** Paid a reduced salary by SIF

* - If the State Workers Compensation Board (WCB) accepts the period of disability as a compensable work-related injury, 60% of the accruals (vacation, holiday and personal leave pay) are returned to the employee.
** - If WCB accepts the period of disability as a compensable work related injury, 100% of accruals and sick leave at ½ pay are returned to the employee.

8. Closing the (Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional) facility is unwise, as more inmates are now allowed to participate in the (Shock Incarceration) program.

Despite the 2009 expansion of eligibility criteria for the Shock Incarceration program to include otherwise-eligible inmates in their 40s and/or in general confinement who reach three years of their earliest possible release date, the program is experiencing a reduction in the number of participants because of a drop in the number of drug offenders the courts are sending to prison. That is partially a result of the Rockefeller Drug Law reforms of 2009, which are resulting in more low-level drug offenders being diverted to alternatives to incarceration. Since about half of all Shock participants are drug offenders, the reduction in the number of drug offenders entering prison means DOCS no longer needs all four of its Shock facilities.

9. As a result of the actions taken by the Democratic Majorities in the Senate and Assembly and the Governor to reduce the prison population, crime will increase, the decline in prison population will end and a need for additional capacity will be created.

The State prison population is already below the 57,600 that had been forecast for March 31, 2011, and last year’s reform of the Rockefeller drug laws are so far resulting in fewer drug offenders being sentenced to prison than originally anticipated. Earned early release programs enacted by the Legislature since the late 1980s have also resulted in a decreased need for prison beds, and New York has enjoyed the sharpest reduction in any State’s crime rate during the last decade - after many of the earned early release programs had taken effect.

The early release programs are intended to enhance public safety by providing meaningful incentives for inmates to behave in prison and participate in programs, thus fostering a safer prison environment for staff and increasing the likelihood that the offenders will successfully transition back into the community after prison without reverting to criminal activity.

Nonetheless, should the need for additional capacity arise, there are still 2,904 available beds in the 60 housing units that have been vacated in the prison consolidations of the last 18 months, and another 1,110 beds that could be brought back on line in the six prison annexes DOCS closed in 2009.

10. The number of injuries to staff increased from 667 in 2006 to 689 in 2007 and 858 in 2008. There were five potentially life-threatening injuries to staff in 2008 that were described only as “accidents” or “other incidents” in Unusual Incident reports.

None of the five potentially life-threatening injuries to staff in 2008 resulted from contact with inmates or inmate actions. Those life-threatening injuries falling under the category of “other incidents” did not occur on prison property or during the employee’s working hours.

Although every injury to an employee is of concern to DOCS, no employee has sustained a serious injury as a result of an inmate assault going back to the beginning of 2006. The vast majority of injuries to staff as a result of inmate assaults are minor, meaning no or minimal medical treatment was required. In each of the years 2006 through 2008, in nearly 70 correctional institutions across the State, the prison system averaged fewer than two minor injuries to staff per day as a result of inmate assaults.

In 2006, inmate assaults resulted in 470 minor injuries and 18 moderate injuries, such as lacerations, concussions, broken bones, serious sprains or ligament damage. In 2007, there were 447 minor injuries and 26 moderate injuries. In 2008, there were 568 minor injuries and 28 moderate injuries.

11. DOCS increased the size of its administration in the past decade while the prison population has decreased by almost 11,000 inmates.

The number of full-time equivalent employees in Central Office categorized by the Division of the Budget as “administration” actually decreased by more than 9 percent between December 1999 and March 2010, from 290 to 263. This net reduction occurred during a period when DOCS had to create positions to administer new mandates from the Legislature and the courts to provide significantly expanded and enhanced programs, treatment and services for incarcerated sex offenders and inmates with mental illness, and to recalculate the sentences of and resentence numerous offenders.

All Central Office staff, which includes support, security, health and program staff in addition to administrators, represents 2 percent of the entire Department staff, or about 739 full-time-equivalent filled positions out of nearly 30,000 agency-wide. Central Office “administration” accounts for less than 1 percent of the DOCS workforce.

12. The (2009-10 State) budget cut 40 PEF (Public Employees Federation) employees from the program services unit, which provides all educational and drug treatment services to inmates … without these items, it is impossible to reduce caseloads.

Of the 40 program services items referenced, 30 were at the correctional camps DOCS closed in 2009 and therefore are no longer needed. The remainder were positions that were funded in anticipation of the need to meet the mandates of the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act of 2007 but were never needed, never filled and do not need to be filled. Therefore, the 40 reductions do not impact caseloads of other program services employees at all.

13. Hubs were meant to achieve savings.

Hubs were created to facilitate communication from the Commissioner to the Superintendents of all of DOCS’ 68 correctional institutions, with the Supervising Superintendent of each Hub relaying instructions, communications and direction.

14. Superintendent homes and properties are maintained by inmate work crews, and they pay no property taxes.

Inmate work crews maintain most of DOCS’ properties to ensure they do not become eyesores or fall into disrepair and require more expensive repairs. Only repairs required to maintain the integrity of buildings are approved, and the Legislature appropriated $1.3 million, and has since re-appropriated the remaining balance, specifically for the repair of staff housing that had fallen into disrepair. Since the homes are State-owned, there are no property taxes.

15. Minimum security prisons prepare inmates to return to their communities … eliminating the most vital part of DOCS’ mission … may save the state money in the short run but may lead to higher recidivism in the near future.

The preparation of inmates to return to society is undertaken at facilities of all security levels. Minimum security prisons lack the capacity to provide many of the programs and services now mandated by the courts and the Legislature.

16. This shifting of inmates (the consolidation of 22 housing units at 17 correctional facilities in March 2010) lacks a specific rationale or organized plan.

The March 2010 consolidations were designed to achieve real and recurring savings for taxpayers with minimal impact on employees and facilities. Vacating housing units at prisons that had enough unfilled correction officer positions facility-wide allowed all officers who had been working in the vacated units to fill other positions at their prison without being required to transfer to a new facility. The move was also designed to help reduce unnecessary overtime.

Recommendations:

1. Maintain prison capacities below 100 percent.

State prisons are operating below 89 percent (see above).

2. Ensure proper staffing ratios.

New York has fewer than half as many inmates per correction officer as the average state prison system, according to the most recent ACA data (see above).

3. Eliminate double bunking.

The elimination of double-bunking would fly in the face of standard, accepted, commonplace correctional practice in America’s state prison systems and would result in an estimated $30 million in unnecessary taxpayer expenditures without any evidence that greater safety within the prisons would result.

4. Keep the number of Crisis Intervention personnel at appropriate levels.

New York has, in fact, maintained such personnel at appropriate levels (see above).

5. “Right-size” internal administration.

DOCS has reduced the number of “administration” employees over the last decade (see above). Commissioner Fischer reduced the total number of Central Office employees (which also includes some support, security, health and program staff) by 10.7 percent since the beginning of the 2007-08 fiscal year. That reduction was achieved despite major court and legislative mandates imposed on DOCS starting early in 2007-08 that have required the hiring of additional staff at both Central Office and the field to direct, supervise and implement vastly expanded and enhanced programming for incarcerated sex offenders and inmates with mental illness (the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act of 2007, the April 2007 court-approved Private Settlement Agreement between the State and Disability Advocates Inc. in response to the advocacy group’s 2002 lawsuit challenging conditions of incarceration for inmates with mental illness, and the Special Housing Unit (SHU) Exclusion Law of 2008), as well as the recalculation of sentences for and the resentencing of numerous offenders. The 10.7 percent reduction in the number of DOCS’ Central Office employees, from 865 in April 2007 to 772 now, represents a rate of reduction more than triple the 3.1 percent reduction in the number of correction officers during that time (19,405 in April 2007 to 18,797 in March 2010).

6. Explore moving federal prisoners to State facilities.

DOCS is open to boarding federal prisoners in unneeded capacity at State prisons; however, the salaries DOCS pays its staff and the large size of DOCS’ security staff (reflected in the low rate of inmates to officers) make New York’s prison system too expensive for many other jurisdictions to consider as a location for housing their offenders.

7. Closing these (prison) farms is the wrong way to cut costs, as the products they supplied must now be purchased from outside vendors. Decommissioning the farm program, which instilled work ethics and responsibility, reduces the options for rehabilitation.

The 12 farms formerly operated by DOCS resulted in a net loss of $3.4 million per year, even factoring the value of the milk, beef and vegetables the farms produced. The cost to operate the farms far exceeded the current cost to purchase these food products. During peak production time periods, the farms required 90 staff positions while programming no more than 236 inmates. While DOCS concurs that the farm program instilled responsibility and a work ethic, many other programs run by the Department do the same. Moreover, the vast majority of inmates come from and will return to the State’s major urban and metropolitan areas, reducing the likelihood that these offenders could use skills learned in the farm program after prison.

8. Make “effective use” of vacant prison farmland.

The State, through the Office of General Services, has signed leases with six local farmers to farm some of the former prison farmland, and the State received more than $100,000 in revenue in the first year of these leases. DOCS entered into haying agreements with local farmers for the other former prison farms to keep the land viable, and the State took in more than $11,500 in revenue from these agreements. The State continues to pursue long-term leases for all the farms with local farmers who would not only farm the land but pay local property taxes on the operations and State taxes on any income derived. DOCS has also cooperated with requests for other uses, including allowing the State University of New York to use one of the former farms for its agriculture education program and making about 40 acres of vacant farmland at Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County available to the Division of Military and Naval Affairs for the construction of a federally-funded, 100,000-square-foot vehicle maintenance facility.

9. Consider developing a three-year reuse plan for facilities that have been closed or are slated for closure.

DOCS respects this issue as a policy decision within the province of the Legislature and will follow whatever reuse requirements are in the law. As for the facilities that were closed last year, DOCS continues to receive periodic requests for detailed information about the premises from outside entities and individuals who continue to be interested in potential reuses for those properties. These potential reuses may not be evident in the initial stages of a closure.

10. The State Commission of Correction should determine the most accurate way of reporting prison capacity statistics, review the current practice of counting temporary, infirmary and special housing unit beds as permanent beds and establish appropriate inmate-to-officer staffing ratios, verify the necessity of administrative positions based in Albany, evaluate which services and programs the Hubs can administer, determine the scope of responsibilities for each administrator and closely examine State-funded housing and other public benefits allegedly given to superintendents and administrators.

DOCS will cooperate with the SCOC in any such review of matters that fall within the SCOC’s constitutional and statutory purview. However, a number of these matters fall within the sole discretion of the Commissioner in his authority to manage and oversee the correctional system as set forth in Correction Law section 112 and various other provisions.

11. Our Conference will introduce legislation prohibiting double bunking and establishing a staffing plan for all security staff in each prison. Staffing ratios should be completely filled at all times. This would ensure that as prison populations fluctuate, New York’s prisons will be sufficiently staffed. The days of insufficient oversight and accountability must come to an end.

DOCS will implement whatever legislation is enacted, but this recommendation would require the re-opening of all 60 dormitories that have been consolidated since Autumn 2008 and the six prison annexes that were closed last year, and could require the addition of other facilities, all at an estimated annual taxpayer cost of about $30 million. DOCS would strongly urge lawmakers not to pass this legislation, and if the Legislature did so anyway, the Department would strongly urge a veto by the Governor. For reasons noted above, DOCS considers banning any and all double-bunking poor public policy that would not enhance the safety and security of correctional facilities but would dangerously overburden New York’s taxpayers. Likewise, DOCS would oppose any bill that would purport to establish specific staffing plans in each prison instead of leaving the matter where it belongs: within the discretion of the Commissioner to manage the prison system.

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Appendix A

(The following materials were sent to Assembly Republican Task Force members before the final
Public Forum in Albany. DOCS sent similar materials to Task Force members before each Forum.)

Letterhead seal
STATE OF NEW YORK
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES
THE HARRIMAN STATE CAMPUS - BUILDING 2
1220 WASHINGTON AVENUE
ALBANY, N.Y. 12226-2050

  BRIAN FISCHER
     COMMISSIONER

M E M O R A N D U M

TO:           Members of the Assembly Minority Forum on the 
                Correctional Workforce
			
FROM:      Brian Fischer, Commissioner
SUBJ:       Forum on the Correctional Workforce
DATE:       October 20, 2009

For your final Forum on the Correctional Workforce tomorrow, I wanted to ensure that you had the enclosed materials, which include:

  • A point-by-point rebuttal of allegations New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) President Donn Rowe has made at your previous forums and in the media;

  • An Op-Ed article that has been published in the Legislative Gazette and in a number of newspapers around Upstate New York addressing the issues at the heart of this debate, and;

  • A Fact Sheet on Occupancy, Staffing & Safety that provides great detail on these issues.

Although some of the numbers have changed since these point-in-time documents were generated, I believe they provide you with important information, historical perspective and appropriate context.