NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision 

Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

Responses by Commissioner Glenn S. Goord
of the New York Department of Correctional Services
to recommendations in 'Confronting Confinement'

Our "Prison Safety in New York" report transmitted herewith to the subcommittee addresses many of the recommendations contained in "Confronting Confinement." Here, I will only expand upon our report (hereinafter referred to simply as Prison Safety) to address relevant nuances or issues contained in the commission's recommendations that are not addressed in our report.

The bold face section headings and numbered subheads (recommendations) below are as listed in the commission's report.

I.I Prevent Violence

  1. Reduce crowding

    Prison Safety details that New York state's prison population is declining significantly while many other state prison systems across the nation continue to grow.

    In addition, New York's incarceration rate was 327 inmates per 100,000 residents in mid-2005 compared to a national state average of 433 inmates per 100,000 residents, according to the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Services. If the U.S. Bureau of Prisons inmate population count is factored in, the national rate rises to 488 inmates per 100,000 residents.

  2. Promote productivity and rehabilitation.

    The Department's commitment to full inmate programming is described in Prison Safety, as are its efforts to link positive programming and behavior to early release for certain nonviolent offenders. We believe this positive use of inmate time contributes to the fact that both inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff violence are at their lowest levels in a quarter-century. We also believe those rehabilitative programs are directly related to a 42 percent decline in the rate of inmates returning to prison for new crimes.

    In addition, the Department already operates some key inmate programs recommended by the commission. These include research-based programming, cognitive behavioral programming (Aggression Replacement Training, Transitional Services plus substance abuse, therapeutic community-based programs), and extensive vocational training, work and employment readiness programs.

    We join the commission in recognizing the positive correlation between inmate participation in higher education and post-release success. However, federal and state lawmakers responded in the 1990s to a growing public sentiment. Taxpayers seemed willing to support providing inmates with a basic high school education. But many were angry that their tax dollars were being spent to provide a free college education to inmates - especially among those taxpayers who were also parents working two or three jobs to finance their children's college education. Many states, like New York, followed the federal government's lead and made inmates ineligible for college aid programs.

    Since then, colleges and benefactors in New York have found ways to fund inmate college courses without tapping into government college aid, which was the intention of state and federal governments in the first place. We are making increases annually in our partnerships with colleges offering courses to inmates. The number of inmate participants has increased from only 379 in 2001 to 1,953 last year. We intend to increase that number.

  3. Use objective classification and direct supervision

    Prison Safety presents how the Department utilizes the objective classification system recommended by the commission.

    To expand upon that system in light of the commission's focus on it, it should be noted that the Department uses separate instruments for newly-committed male and female inmates and a third for returning parole violators. Our Security Classification Guidelines quantify both public and institutional risk by evaluating specific behaviors and information specified in our guidelines. Specific factors assessed in the guidelines include violence in the present and most serious prior offenses, amount of time to earliest release, prior adjustment to criminal justice supervision, behavior while incarcerated on other offenses and other characteristics such as established patterns of vicious violence, violence against authorities, vulnerability, predatory behavior and any other pertinent issues that may affect placement or programming.

    As explained in Prison Safety, New York's commitment to direct supervision contributes to our ratio of one Correction Officer to three inmates, compared to other large states with staffing ratios of one Officer to six or seven inmates.

  4. Use force and non-lethal weaponry only as a last resort

    Prison Safety notes that between 1995-2004, 9,148 employees were injured attempting to stop inmate misbehavior, quite often in the form of assaults on other inmates. Many of those injuries were sustained because staff was mindful of their training to use the least amount of force necessary to restrain an inmate. Staff are also trained that physical force is the last resort after attempting to talk an inmate into complying with staff direction.

    In addition, New York agrees that Correction Officers should not carry firearms or chemical agents into inmate-contact areas of prisons. Officers only have the option to carry batons, the appropriate use of which is taught in our Training Academy and in facility refresher courses. Chemical agents can only be ordered and used with the authorization and under the supervision of at least a Sergeant. The use must also be videotaped and the chain of custody of the videotape must be maintained.

    There were 1,943 use of force incidents last year among an average daily inmate population of 63,357 inmates. In most cases, body holds and other less-forceful means were employed to stop serious inmate misbehavior such as assaults and attempts to set fires or otherwise destroy property. The Department does not use the four- and five-point restraints opposed by the commission.

    Batons were used in 4.6 percent of those use of force incidents, while chemical agents were used in 3.4 percent.

    There are occasions when firearms must be discharged to stop serious inmate assaults. The only incidents since 1990 in which prison inmates were struck by rounds fired by Officers occurred in November 1997 and July 2002. Each was shot by Correction Officers in towers after inmates refused repeated Officer warnings to cease their vicious attacks with homemade weapons on other inmates. Both inmates survived their wounds.

    We believe these statistics document our use of physical force, firearms, batons or chemical agents as measures of last resort.

  5. Employ surveillance technology

    Prison Safety details the more than $35 million the Department has spent on thousands of fixed and mobile videotaping units and its strict controls on the custody of videotapes. It notes those videotapes have been used both to exonerate and condemn actions by inmates as well as staff. The Department continually reviews its operations and procedures to determine how the use of this important technology can be expanded.

    Prison Safety also points out New York's implementation of the commission's recommendation of non-intrusive drug detection devices by piloting the use of ion scanners. Its suggested use of technologies that avoid intrusive body cavity searches for weapons is being met in New York through the use of 99 Body Orifice Scanning System - or BOSS - chairs equipped with metal detection capability.

    Prison Safety also addresses the commission's "stress and dignity" recommendations. It explains the discreet locations used for inmate strip searches. Videotapes of such searches are designed to ensure proper conduct by staff and to show inmate actions. An extensive chain of custody of videotapes is mandated to limit access to those videos to selected personnel.

  6. Support community and family bonds

    Prison Safety describes the historical position of New York lawmakers that prisons are only built in communities that want them. These tend to be rural areas hundreds of miles from the urban centers that are home to most inmates.

    Prison Safety notes that New York prisons accommodated 771,092 inmate visitors last year. New York spent $1.3 million last year to provide 2,400 visitors a month with free bus rides from urban centers to distant prisons and back. More than 8,300 inmates were able to have overnight visits last year on prison grounds with nearly 14,000 family members. Upon their arrival at prisons, visitor centers costing the state $400,000 annually provide a respite for travelers. Prisons also accepted 584,663 packages sent by loved ones to inmates. Prison Safety also describes the Department's policy of allowing inmates to earn placement in prisons closer to home and describes our extensive Transitional Services program designed to prepare inmates for release.

    In addition, we agree with the commission's recommendation that community volunteers can play an important role in improving inmate lives and assisting in their transition to release. That's why we encourage outside volunteers, who brought nearly 300,000 hours of programming into New York prisons last year alone.

    Two prisons housing female offenders offer nurseries to accommodate inmates who are pregnant when they enter the system. One of them is Bedford Hills, which offers the first nursery ever established in an American prison. New inmate mothers can generally keep newborns in their care for 12 months.

    To further enhance family contacts, the Department offers teleconference video hookups for two groups of inmates with families in New York City. The two groups are female inmates housed in Albion prison in western New York, and any critically ill inmate housed in the Department's various regional medical units around the state.

    Department staff also participate in statewide and local reentry task forces which ensures an ongoing connection to, and dialogue with, community-based organizations, state and local community service agencies and local faith-based groups. They involve themselves in every aspect of preparing inmates for their return to society.

    The Department expects to receive nearly $16 million this fiscal year in commissions on collect-only phone calls placed by inmates to their loved ones. The phone commission plan was adopted by lawmakers in the mid-1980s. The Department will forego those commissions if the Legislature commits to replacing those commission funds that pay for a host of inmate programs. A detailed presentation of the Department's inmate telephone program can be found at www.doccs.ny.gov/PressRel/2003/phoneinfo.pdf  138 KB or by going to the "press release" section of the Department's web site and scrolling down to July 31, 2003.

I.2 Provide Health Care that Protects Everyone

  1. Partner with health providers from the community

    Prison Safety provides an extensive outline of health services, including our network of 1,000 community-based specialists around the state. It notes that overall medical expenditures have increased 103 percent and mental health care spending by 300 percent - while the inmate population has been decreasing.

    Prison Safety also discusses the partnerships the Department has established with the state Department of Health and the state Office of Mental Health plus their county counterparts, as well as establishing clinical care guidelines that are based upon recommendations from the Federal Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.

  2. Build real partnerships within facilities

    Prison Safety describes the training that medical staff provides other personnel to enable the latter to identify and work with medical issues among inmates.

    In addition, security and medical personnel work together to establish health care quality improvement processes. As the commission recommends, the one million sick call visits made annually by inmates are kept confidential.

    Security and medical personnel work together to ensure all inmates are transported appropriately for treatment at outside providers. Together, they have established protocols that allow 90 percent of such care to be provided in secure settings - either in prison medical units or prison units in outside hospitals - that minimize risk to the public at large.

  3. Commit to caring for people with mental illness

    Prison Safety documents the spending and activities of the state Office of Mental Health, which bears primary responsibility for the delivery of such services in prison. It also details new and innovative programs being implemented to provide care to this segment of the prison population.

  4. Screen, test and treat for infectious disease

    Prison Safety details extensive testing for both AIDS and TB.

    In addition, testing is also done for sexually transmitted diseases plus hepatitis B and C.

  5. End co-payments for medical care

    New York does not charge inmates co-payments. The Department would oppose any plan to do so.

  6. Extend Medicaid and Medicare to eligible prisoners

    The Department supports extending those programs to inmates. In the meantime, it works to complete the paperwork for soon-to-be-released inmates to shorten the gap between actual release and the beginning of such coverage.

I.3 Limit Segregation

  1. Make segregation a last resort and a more productive form of confinement, and stop releasing people directly from segregation to the streets.

    Prison Safety extensively details New York's position on this issue.

  2. End conditions of isolation

    Prison Safety extensively details New York's position on this issue.

  3. Protect mentally ill prisoners

    Prison Safety details New York's programs to treat mentally ill prisoners in beds and programs separate from the general population. It also discusses our program to intensify mental health services for inmates in disciplinary housing. It also describes a pilot program to divert misbehaving inmates with mental illnesses from being placed in disciplinary housing.

II.1 Labor and Leadership

  1. Promote a culture of mutual respect

    Prison Safety details New York's policy that it will not tolerate mistreatment or abuse of inmates. It also details the positive and professional relationship that all staff are expected to maintain in their dealings with inmates.

    There is a reason why New York's rank-and-file security staff carries the title of Correction Officer rather than prison guard. It is because we believe their role is far more than simply being jailers.

    From their days in the Training Academy, Officers are taught to treat inmates with respect, balanced by vigilance and awareness of their surroundings. Security staff is taught that just as they will not be working on college campuses, they must always be mindful that inmates are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment. Staff is expected to promote good and positive inmate behavior by their own example.

    General confinement inmates are allowed out of their cells all day to participate in positive rehabilitative programs. Security joins program staff in their attempts to use that time to prepare inmates for their return to society. Security's role is to foster that positive environment and to restrain the minority of inmates intent on upsetting that productive atmosphere.

    Toward that end, security staff attempts to ensure that inmates know and understand prison rules, while staff applies them even-handedly, consistently and fairly. Those same attributes must be adhered to when an inmate violates the rules and punishments are to be imposed.

  2. Recruit and retain a qualified corps of officers

    Prison Safety deals extensively with New York’s recruitment and screening of Correction Officer candidates to ensure the selection and retention of the best employees possible.

    he commission notes Correction Officer starting salaries nationally were within a range of $15,324 to $36,850 in 2004. Under their new contract, New York's Officers will see their starting salary rise to $34,329 in March 2007.

    The annual security staff turnover rate in New York is 4.5 percent, roughly one-quarter of the national rate of 16 percent cited by the commission. That rate translates into New York Correction Officers having an average of nearly 14 years of service. Going up the ranks: Sergeants have an average of 21 years of service and seven years in their rank; Lieutenants have an average of more than 23 years of service with almost six years in their rank, and Captains have an average of more than 24 years of service with more than four years in their rank.

  3. Support today's leaders and cultivate the next generation

    The commission notes the average tenure for top correctional administrators is three years, noting such active turnover "destabilizes the entire system, sidelining reform initiatives as new leaders become acclimated."

    Commissioner Goord has been in office for ten years, more than three times the national average. He retained several members of his Executive Staff who were already in place when he became Commissioner. Mr. Goord rose through the Department's ranks to become the first career employee to ever be appointed its Commissioner. By contrast, Thomas A. Coughlin, III never set foot inside of a prison prior to his service as Commissioner from 1979-1994. What Messrs. Goord and Coughlin have in common is that both were recognized nationally during their tenure as experts on correctional issues.

    On the facility level, staff up through and including the rank of Captain are appointed based upon the results of competitive exams given by the state's Department of Civil Service. Superintendents and their deputies must meet certain minimum requirements for appointment by the Commissioner, whose gubernatorial nomination itself must be confirmed by the state Senate.

    The Department operates a host of large and small maximum-, medium- and minimum-security prisons. Supervisors in Civil Service positions are promoted and appointed in accordance with their collective bargaining unit contracts. As those individuals advance through the ranks and gain experience throughout the system, they become the pool of candidates from which the Commissioner appoints virtually all Superintendents and their deputies.

    Throughout their careers, the Department mandates in-service training for all staff while encouraging employees to pursue outside efforts for professional advancement. That can include college courses or participation in the host of correctional organizations and government programs that exist around the state and nation.

III. Oversight and Accountability

  1. Demand independent oversight

    Prison Safety explores this issue in detail

  2. Build national non-government oversight

    Across the nation, the operation of correctional facilities are the responsibility of state and local correctional administrators who report to lawmakers who, in turn, are accountable to voters. State prisons and local jails are expected to operate within the laws and rules set by lawmakers who oversee them. We see no role for a "non-government" entity to co-manage prisons or jails.

    It remains to be seen whether taxpayers or their elected officials would wish to fund a new national bureaucracy to be duplicative of those already established on the federal, state and local level who report to the public on prison issues - not to mention inmates themselves who have ample access to lawmakers, prosecutors, the state and federal courts plus the media.

    To the extent that the commission suggests such a group might only be available to those who request its assistance, state and local correctional systems already have the authority to seek and hire outside consultants.

  3. Reinvigorate investigation and oversight

    Prison Safety explores this issue in detail.

  4. Increase access to the courts by reforming the PLRA

    Just last week, a federal court upheld double-celling in New York's maximum-security prisons - 11 years after the inmate lawsuit was filed. It is outrageous that the case was even allowed to proceed, since the courts have supported double-celling for the past 30 years. But this non-meritorious lawsuit still occupied taxpayer-funded state attorneys and federal courts for more than a decade.

    Now, the commission seems to be crying foul because the inmate batting average of court victories has fallen since PLRA made felons play by the judiciary's rules. Interestingly, the above-referenced lawsuit was filed in 1995, the same year that PLRA was enacted but to take effect in April of 1996.

    Prison Safety demonstrates that New York inmates are abundantly assured ample access to the courts through our inmate law libraries and taxpayer-supported legal representatives available to inmates.

    More importantly, Congress enacted PLRA in recognition of the fact that inmate litigation was getting out of control nationally and was an unreasonably enormous drain on taxpayer dollars.

    Further, it was so time-consuming for prison officials that it imposed unwarranted and severe constraints on their ability to perform core responsibilities related to day-to-day prison operations. Inmates would oftentimes file lawsuits as a means of harassing prison and other officials. The playing field was such that inmates could file abusive and non-meritorious litigation with virtual impunity.

    PLRA was enacted to reverse this trend. There is absolutely no credible reason to retreat from the various PLRA measures which brought some semblance of balance to the inmate litigation landscape.

    And while the commission may bemoan the declining rate of successful inmate lawsuits, there has been no discernable decline in the volume of inmate litigation in New York as a result of PLRA.

  5. Monitor practice not just policy

    Prison Safety is detailed and specific on this issue. It outlines the numbers and types of federal, state and local law enforcement, oversight, judicial and prosecutorial agencies, as well as elected lawmakers and others, who have the right to enter prisons and monitor their operations at will.

    Prison Safety also points out that New York has already implemented the commission's suggestion that state law enforcement officials partner with those on the local level to investigate and prosecute crimes in prison. The report also notes this Department is supportive of legislation that would hold employees criminally liable if they fail to report their knowledge of certain crimes.

  6. Strengthen professional standards

    We do not believe the ACA needs New York to defend the quality and history of its superb operations, support and assistance to prisons and jails across the nation. Since this section deals exclusively with the operations of the American Correctional Association, we will defer to the ACA's board of directors and its executive director who are more than capable to explain and justify the excellent support that they provide to correctional systems across the nation.

  7. Develop meaningful internal complaint system

    Prison Safety documents our internal grievance system available to inmates and their extensive use of it.

  8. Encourage visits to facilities

    Prison Safety offers an exhaustive list of those with the right to visit prisons as well as the number of groups and individuals to whom the privilege of visiting is extended.

  9. Strive for transparency

    While the commission focuses on just the media in this recommendation, Prison Safety goes much further in presenting the Department's efforts on this subject.

IV.1 Knowledge and data

  1. Develop nationwide reporting

    The Department was a long-standing participant in the Criminal Justice Institute Inc.'s compilation of detailed annual statistics for its now-defunct yearbook. We are regular contributors to surveys conducted by Corrections Compendium. We routinely prepare data tapes of our statistics for the media and other outside groups. Therefore, the Department would look favorably upon any federal legislation to fully fund the fair and accurate compilation of correctional data for public release.

    The Department has been a forerunner in capturing meaningful data for managers. The Unusual Incident Reporting System was established in the early 1980s to track, analyze and learn from any type of occurrences within prison. The Department made that information just as available in the 1990s when incidents were on the rise as it does now as the number of those same incidents are declining.

  2. Fund a national effort to learn how prisons and jails can make a larger contribution to public safety

    We reject the commission's general statement in this section that the states have "given up on rehabilitation,"as least as it applies to New York. In fact, we compile a plethora of statistics designed to show where we have been successful in contributing to public safety and where we can do better. To the extent that any federal effort would coincide or improve upon our efforts, we would certainly consider participation in such an effort fully funded by the federal government.

    The Department has been a participant for more than two years in New York state's overall effort to track the criminal justice system's progress in all areas related to crime and community safety. The Department submits a significant amount of information each month to that effort. That information is related to population management (including admissions, releases and under custody data) as well as safety issues (including homicides, suicides, escapes and assaults). The Department submissions also include tracking inmates in meeting their identified program needs, including education, vocational training, education, aggression programming, sex offender counseling and substance abuse treatment.

  3. Require correctional impact statements

    The commission makes this recommendation from this starting point on page 109:

    "We cannot hold corrections administrators accountable for the safety of prisoners and staff, and for public safety, if we do not provide the resources necessary to effectively manage their facilities. One of the most significant challenges those administrators face is the size of the prisoner population, which has grown dramatically, without a corresponding increase in resources."

    Despite our declining inmate population, New York is in full compliance with this recommendation, as made clear in Prison Safety, Commissioner Goord's letter to the subcommittee and this addendum. History also shows that Governor Pataki and the Legislature have publicly discussed both cause and effect when recommending changes in prison sentencing, operations and policies.

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