Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Commissioner Glenn S. Goord delivered these remarks during the Department's annual Memorial Service and Medals Ceremony at 4 p.m. today at the Training Academy on New Scotland Road in Albany:

Ladies and gentlemen, before I offer a few remarks, let us all bow our heads for a moment of silent prayer in honor of our nation’s 40th President, Ronald Wilson Reagan ...

I want to thank Senator Volker and Assemblyman Aubry for joining us today.

It is always heartening to know that the Legislature is mindful of the sacrifices made by our employees. It is also important that you join with us in recognizing their bravery and sacrifice.

Today we honor the actions of seven employees at home ... and the ultimate sacrifice by a co-worker half a world away.

That fact is representative of what we see in the media today: A connection between our prison employees at home, and actions occurring halfway around the globe.

Never before have we held this ceremony when the operation of prisons have been among the top media stories of the day.

Not only here in New York, or even across the nation.

But around the world, because of events in a prison in Iraq.

And those events in the Mid-East have resulted in some questions as to how we operate our prisons here in the United States.

I have seen many of the stories about conditions and operations in state and private prisons across the nation. But not one of those national stories has been critical of New York’s prisons.

That confirms what we have known for years: that our Correctional staff, uniformed and civilian, is the best trained and the most dedicated in the nation.

It starts with the fact that, unlike in private prisons, our prisons require each officer recruit to take a civil service exam. You then underwent physicals, background investigations and psychological screening.

Only then could you be considered for our eight-week training session here at the Academy, followed by three weeks of on-the-job training.

Private prisons do not protect their employees with the security that such professional screening and training provides.

Even then, each of our officers also receives 40 hours of in-service training annually. That’s more than three-quarters of a million hours of training each year. That does not include the thousands of hours of ongoing training for civilian personnel.

We don’t stop with screening potential candidates and then training our personnel.

We invite independent monitors to measure each prison: we require each prison to be accredited by the American Correctional Association. That ensures we meet nationally-accepted standards for prison operation and administration.

We also have our own auditors from Albany who review every facility’s compliance with our own rules, regulations, policies and directives.

This has all contributed to 20-year lows in inmate attacks on our employees and other inmates.

It has also led to a reduction in “throwing” incidents in our institutions.

Enforcing one set of fair and consistent rules makes our prisons more secure for staff and humane for inmates.

From 2001-2003, we saw a 10 percent decline in the rate of inmate grievances alleging staff misconduct – during a period in which the inmate population declined by only three percent.

Fifty percent of inmates were enrolled in program assignments when Governor Pataki took office. Partly through the efforts of our civilian employees, that has since risen to two-thirds of the inmate population. And we all know that inmates involved in meaningful programs have less time to disrupt facility operations.

Their participation also helps them to stay within the law when they are released. The rate of inmates returned for committing new crimes has dropped by 50 percent since 1995.

So we are also meeting our mandate to help make New York’s streets safer.

Our prisons and our communities are safer, in part, because of the sacrifice made by the 35 heroes whose plaques we display in honor inside of the Academy’s memorial room. To their survivors honoring us with their presence today, I say thank you. Thank you for their service. And thank you for their commitment that led them to make the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the people of New York state.

Today, we add that 35th plaque in memory of Clinton prison guard Dennis O’Brien. He was struck by a train and killed on January 11, 1904, as he searched a rail yard for an escapee. Described as a man of many good qualities, he was one of the most popular officers at the Dannemora prison where he had worked for nearly 15 years. He left a wife and seven children.

Prison Guard O’Brien, through his sacrifice a century ago, now joins our pantheon of heroes.

Today, we also honor the ultimate sacrifice paid by Inspector General Investigator Michael Williams. This “citizen soldier” left as a patriot for Iraq and returned to us a hero. As Governor Pataki wrote in a letter to his family, “Michael served our country with tremendous dedication.”

I can also add he served this Department with professionalism and integrity.

Today we also honor our seven Medal of Merit recipients. We recognize each of them as among the best of today’s Correctional Services employee.

We are thankful for their service – in the best work force in the nation.

Today, we should also recognize our “every day heroes:” the 30,000 men and women who work daily in our 70 prisons ... and make ours the best correctional system in the nation.

I am proud of each and every one of you.