Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182

For immediate release:

11:30 AM, Monday, February 25, 2002

Commissioner: DOCS redirecting staff to improve prison security, inmate programs

Governor Pataki wants to redirect state resources to improve prison security and essential inmate programs, Commissioner Glenn S. Goord said today, explaining that was the logical extension of the Governor's plans that have "right-sized" the system - building the cells to house violent and repeat offenders while enacting programs for nonviolent offenders that allow their release prior to completing their court-set minimum sentences.

The Commissioner detailed the Governor's plan for next year's prison spending in the text of his opening remarks prepared for a joint hearing this morning by the Legislature's fiscal committees. Agency heads detailed for the fiscal panels the spending that Governor Pataki has proposed for them in his Executive Budget for the fiscal year beginning on April 1. Here is the text of Commissioner Goord's opening remarks:

Good morning, Chairmen Stafford and Farrell.

As always, I appreciate the opportunity to come before your joint committees to discuss our plans for the coming year. Thank you for inviting me to address you this morning.

We have always appreciated the guidance that your committees have given this Department. The Governor's leadership, combined with legislative support, now positions us to make a significant change in our priorities. That is what I would like to discuss with you today.

Members of both committees will recall that, from the 1970s through the '90s, virtually all correctional priorities were defined by one initiative: capacity expansion.

As the system grew by thousands of inmates each year, we came before you annually looking for money - to build prisons and hire staff for an inmate population that doubled and redoubled each decade.

For years, we were hard-pressed to initiate new programs and address other priorities because of our focus on expansion. We concentrated on finding a bed for each inmate entering the system. We housed 16,000 inmates in 1975, which more than doubled to 34,000 in 1984, and peaked above 71,000 in 1997.

But in this new millennium, I am choosing a new word by which to define our priorities.

That word is redirection.

We can redirect our priorities because, working with Governor Pataki:

  • You stemmed the upward spiral in our population since 1995. His alternatives that you enacted have allowed 42,000 nonviolent offenders to earn release from prison prior to completing their minimum sentences.
  • You made the system safer by approving Governor Pataki's plan to build 3,500 disciplinary housing beds. That allowed us to move disruptive inmates out of general confinement. We are now seeing 20-year lows in both inmate-on-staff and inmate-on-inmate assaults.
  • That allowed us to backfill those general confinement cells with felons awaiting transfer from the counties - enabling us to take in the record 4,400 state readies held in county jails in 1999.

We had roughly 71,000 inmates under custody in April 2000. The population has since dropped by 4,200 inmates. That means we will not achieve the 6,600 bed reduction we projected by April of this year.

I mentioned earlier that we had 4,400 state readies in county jails in 1999. We reduced that to about 1,600 by April 2000. We further reduced that number to 600 by last week. We could have allowed the number of state readies to rise. We could have reached the 6,600-bed reduction this March. But that would have been inappropriate. Instead, we opted to stretch out our bed reduction by one year, to April 2003.

We expect the population to drop by another 2,400 inmates by the end of the next fiscal year. That will reach our reduction of 6,600 beds. It will bring our population to about 64,400 inmates - for the first time since 1993.

As a result of that downsizing, the current year's budget required that we attrit 614 positions. We have exceeded that staff attrition at the 36 facilities targeted to lose inmates. The budget before you calls for a further reduction of 584 jobs in the coming fiscal year. We will attain that goal.

We will do so while ensuring that we maintain the staff that we need:

  • Our security force will remain at a ratio of one officer to roughly three inmates, compared to a national average of approximately one officer to six inmates.
  • The ratio of program staff to inmates will remain virtually the same - even after this budget transfers 100 mental health positions from program services to our medical services.

We have carefully begun a reduction in our work force at those 36 medium-security prisons scheduled to vacate 6,600 beds. Most of the bed takedown means vacating top double bunks. We are leaving the beds in place in case our needs change or an emergency occurs. We are closing space that would be costly to rehab for long-term use. We are removing beds that were squeezed into dorms to increase capacity.

System wide, an inmate population decrease of 6,600 could justify - on paper - a more significant reduction in our work force than what we have planned. But we chose to review every facility's operations. We looked at all staffing. This redirection now addresses what we consider to be the additional security and civilian workload that facilities were given in the past, without commensurate staffing.

Let me explain how we couple this takedown with the concept of redirection. We plan to close down housing in Tappan, the 530-bed, medium-security portion of Sing Sing. The housing units are old and would require expensive rehab for long-term use. That isn't cost-effective when we are downsizing. We are going to redirect Tappan's program space and staff to program more of Sing Sing's maximum-security inmates.

At several of the medium-security prisons where we are taking down double bunks, we are going to redirect some of the security items that were added when they received additional inmates. I believe they will run much better and more safely if we retain some of those added officers. As a result, we will redirect some positions that would otherwise have been attrited under this takedown.

We will redirect staff to provide drug treatment similar to that now being offered in 860 slots by outside contractors. We can provide those same programs in-house with 2,700 slots while saving taxpayers more than $2 million annually.

The declining population has also reduced the number of inmates eligible for placement in our residential drug treatment programs. We will redirect some of that staff to our non-residential drug treatment programs.

Another need that we will address next year through redirection is mental health services. We will work with the Office of Mental Health to expand these services to inmates at both Bedford Hills and Sing Sing. The security staff coverage for those programs will be provided by redirecting some of the resources that would otherwise be abolished through our plan to close 10 outmoded Special Housing Units.

These are the types of redirection that benefit our system and the taxpayer. As the system downsizes, we can focus upon improving security and increasing the delivery of essential inmate programs. That is a luxury that we - and you - were denied throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s.

I realize that none of these initiatives that I've talked about this morning are earth-shattering, in and of themselves.

But they do remind me of the late 1990s. We saw our in-house population decrease by 600 inmates in calendar 1997. Few took notice of that, outside of our agency. But to us, it represented a glimpse of what was to come.

That 600 inmate decrease was a drop in the proverbial bucket among more than 71,000 inmates. But the fact that the population had not increased foretold the 6,600 inmate decrease we are now experiencing.

It is equally telling today that I can come before you now and talk about redirection - rather than repeating the mantra of capacity expansion that was our priority for three decades.

Through Governor Pataki's leadership and in partnership with the Legislature, we now have the opportunity to set new priorities and redirect our resources, if only on a small scale this first year.

The challenge before us is to build upon this opportunity. Together, we can improve upon our system while maintaining security and improving the delivery of essential inmate programs.

I look forward to your input and cooperation in this effort.

Thank you for the opportunity to make this statement.