New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner
Office of Public Information
For immediate release:
Thursday, June 27, 2002
Goord: Association ignores public safety, maligns staff to promote inmates' issues
Shows itself to be advocate and lobbyist for felons, not the public's "prison watchdog"
The Correctional Association of New York uses outdated material and outright fiction in a report scheduled for release this week that, among other things, claims that its inmate clients should get only a slap on the wrist for rioting or using illegal drugs, Commissioner Glenn S. Goord said today.
In response to the overall report, Commissioner Goord said, "For a lobbying organization to compact four-year-old material into an election-year package confirms that politics, not policy, is once again the highest priority of these inmate advocates. As a result, this response to the Association's press release stands as my reaction to its 162 pages promoting an inmate agenda while maligning the 32,500 hard-working and professional employees of this Department. There should be no expectation that I would devote taxpayer resources to reading, evaluating or responding to this tome."
In fiscal 1999-2000, records indicate that Correctional Association staff spent 400 hours over nine days visiting nine facilities. At that rate, it would take almost eight years to visit all 70 prisons plus the Willard Drug Treatment Campus operated by the Department. By comparison, the independent, professional and nationally-recognized American Correctional Association (ACA) spent 1,900 hours over 82 days at 33 prisons during the same period. The ACA has accredited and re-accredited each of DOCS' 71 facilities, its Training Academy, regional medical units and other units as meeting nationally-accepted standards for the management and operation of correctional facilities. The only other fully-accredited state prison systems in the nation are Ohio (with 46,832 inmates in 2000) and Louisiana (with 34,130).
Commissioner Goord said, "I will defer to the ACA's non-partisan findings of fact. The Correctional Association's report is what it is: a lobbyist's submission on behalf of its clients. There is nothing inherently wrong with advocating or lobbying for inmates. But the Correctional Association should stop misrepresenting itself as 'a prison watchdog.' It isn't, and hasn't been for years. Rather, it now registers annually with the State Commission on Lobbying. This entire document is a lobbying effort on behalf of its inmate clients."
The Correctional Association ignores any discussion or recommendations on prison security or preventing inmate-on-staff or inmate-on-inmate attacks. Commissioner Goord said, "I know of no other organization that would consider issuing a 'state of the prisons report' while ignoring the safety and concerns of the brave men and women who spend their days working with the most violent felons in our society - the Association's clients. This document should be entitled 'An inmate's wish list on how they would run the prison system.' "
In discussing the state's disciplinary housing system for inmates who break prison rules, for example, the Correctional Association says "many of the inmates housed in them have not committed serious offenses. For example, the most common charges for inmates serving time in disciplinary confinement in November 2000 were drug use and participating in a disturbance."
Commissioner Goord said, "It is irresponsible for even inmate lobbyists to say we should not hold the line against prison 'disturbances,' a buzzword the public equates to a riot. We work hard to make our prisons safe and secure for staff, inmates, visitors and the communities that surround our facilities. It is irresponsible for anyone to say we should minimize our reaction or the punishment meted out for such dangerous behavior."
The Association concedes this Department offers more drug treatment than virtually any other state prison system. Inmates who use drugs behind prison walls are a double threat. First, to their own health, documented by the fact that 86 inmates died of drug overdoses in prison between 1982-2000. Secondly, drugs are a threat to staff and other inmates because of the violence and extortion that accompanies drug use in or out of prison. "We maintain a 'zero tolerance' policy on drugs and that will continue," the Commissioner promised.
Rather than debating levels of punishment, most inmates know they are not supposed to commit major rules infractions. Of the 66,797 inmates in 70 prisons on Wednesday, 50,937 of them - 76 percent - have never committed infractions serious enough to earn placement in a disciplinary housing unit. Another 8,126 - 12 percent - have just one such sentence. Thus, multiple infractions apply to just 12 percent of inmates. There are 3,316 inmates with two such disciplinary housing sentences and, at the other end, six with more than 50.
The Commissioner also took issue with these points in the Correctional Association's press release:
- It contends the Governor has cut staff and programs. While the inmate population rose 5 percent since Governor Pataki took office (from 65,676 at the end of 1994 to 69,157 at the end of last year):
- Inmate academic enrollment is up 16 percent (17,679 in 1995 to 20,423 in 2001)
- Vocational enrollment is up 9 percent (10,334 to 11,311)
- GEDs awarded increased 13 percent (2,821 to 3,200).
- Total education staff increased 4 percent (1,126 to 1,174).
- Total education expenditures increased more than 7 percent ($54 million to $58 million).
- Participation in drug treatment programs has increased 102 percent (from 17,383 to 35,032).
- More than 44,000 selected, nonviolent offenders have utilized the Governor's alternatives to earn release from prison prior to completion of their court-set minimum sentences.
- Total staffing for inmate programs was 3,209 filled jobs in April 1991, which grew to 3,535 filled jobs in April 1998. DOCS cannot explain the Association's statement that 1,200 program jobs were cut.
- Equally for the protection of staff as well as inmates, Governor Pataki maintained a Correction Officer ratio in 1999 of 1 officer to 3.5 inmates compared to a ratio of 1 to 5.6 nationwide and 1 to 8.9 in California (with 162,427 inmates), 1 to 6.1 in Florida (69,596), 1 to 5.5 in Texas (148,457) and 1 to 9.8 in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (135,246), according to the non-partisan Criminal Justice Institute, Inc.
- The Association's "shuttered libraries" did not prevent 1,337,000 inmate visits to general libraries last year, compared to 660,000 in 1995 (when there were 1,000 more inmates). Nor did it prevent the circulation of 3,816,700 books and periodicals last year compared to 1,980,000 in 1995. There were 76 such libraries with 425 clerks in 1995 - compared to 89 libraries with 530 clerks last year.
- The "shuttered libraries" holding extensive law books drew 547,200 inmate visits last year, close to the record 550,000 visits in 1995. More than 3.1 million legal books were circulated last year while 360 certified inmate law clerks responded to 439,200 requests for legal assistance in 90 law libraries.
- Despite the Association's claim, New York doesn't operate any "super max" or "maxi-maxi" prisons, as defined by correctional professionals across the U.S. It does operate disciplinary housing units that are free-standing (Southport and Upstate) or located within maximum- or medium-security general confinement prisons. They all operate basically the same way and are of maximum-security construction.
- The Association opposed the fact that Governor Pataki built 3,450 such disciplinary housing beds. He did so, in part, to swap into them misbehaving inmates who were bottle-necking intake by being "keep locked" in general confinement cells due to a lack of disciplinary housing unit space. Since they opened:
- The number and rate of inmate-on-staff assaults has fallen to the lowest levels in 20 years.
- The rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults is the lowest in 20 years and the number is the fewest in 13 years.
- Inmate contraband, often possession of weapons, has declined 50 percent while the number of fires set by inmates - a clear threat to all lives - has dropped 67 percent.
- The total number of inmates housed in disciplinary status has remained virtually unchanged, with 5,271 inmates in such status in December 1997 versus 5,257 in December 2001.
- What has changed is the number of inmates "keep locked" in general confinement cells, dropping from 3,262 in 1997 to 1,603 in 2001. They have been swapped into the new disciplinary units, freeing up general confinement cells for newly-sentenced felons from the counties.
- Inmates sentenced to an average of 253 days of disciplinary confinement in 1997 served an average of 180 days. Those averages dropped to 160-day sentences and 138 days served in 2001.
- The Association is disingenuous when it points out that not all the new beds are filled and then goes on to criticize those 553 beds vacant today. In fact, the Association was among those in 1997 who opposed their construction by "predicting" that the Department would increase disciplinary hearings in order to fill all the beds. Those beds are vacant for exactly the reason DOCS said it wanted them: to be immediately available in the event of an emergency anywhere in the system.
- The 2000 Corrections Yearbook published by the Criminal Justice Institute, Inc., makes several comparisons of 1999 data that suggest a connection between prison safety and locking up inmates who are a threat to institutional safety:
- New York locks up 8 percent of its inmates in around-the-clock status for a variety of reasons, compared to a national average of 7 percent. The appropriate comparison is the sum of all inmates locked in around-the-clock, regardless of the reason. Texas led the nation with the most (8,709) while New Mexico was the highest with 21 percent of its population locked in.
- There were no homicides in New York's prisons that year, compared to 12 in California, seven each in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and in Texas, and two in Florida.
- There were 1,310 inmate-on-inmate assaults in New York that year, compared to 4,160 in California, 1,721 in Florida, 1,704 in Texas and 1,335 in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
- There were 755 inmate-on-staff assaults in New York prisons compared to 2,606 in California, 2,044 in Texas, 1,011 in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and 608 in Florida.
- There were 294 inmate-on-staff assaults referred for prosecution in New York and 99 in Florida, but none reported in California, Texas or the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
- Here are a few examples of inmates sentenced to long disciplinary terms that the Association says it opposes on principle:
- An inmate who put a screwdriver to his vocational instructor's throat and briefly took him hostage is among those in such housing through 2014.
- An inmate was confined through 2015 after assaulting another inmate and, once in disciplinary housing, adding 11 staff assaults, an inmate assault and an arson attempt.
- An inmate confined through 2012 for his part in the 1991 hostage-taking at Southport, participated in a mass demonstration later that year, followed by 15 staff and two inmate assaults plus nine weapons possession charges.
- An inmate in disciplinary housing through 2012, initially for slashing an employee with a razor, then assaulted his co-defendant's attorney in a courtroom and later attempted to escape.
- While the Association calls for better monitoring of staff misconduct, it is well aware of inmates' rights to file grievances or lawsuits and to write their attorneys and prosecutors. It also knows it has its own resources plus those of the Legal Aid Society, American Civil Liberties Union, Prisoners Legal Services, Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of Justice and a host of others at its disposal. If investigations and prosecutions are not at the level the Association deems appropriate, that may very well be because the infractions it imagines have not occurred, or its inmate witnesses present some credibility issues.
- Concerning inmate suicides, the seven in 2001 were the fewest since the five in 1991.
- 25 of the 79 inmate suicides since 1995, or 32 percent, occurred in solitary confinement disciplinary housing units. That's far below the Association's claim of 50 percent.
- The 2000 Corrections Yearbook lists 24 suicides in California prisons in 1999, 22 in Texas, six in Florida, an average four per state system nationally and nine in New York. It also reports those numbers compute to a death by suicide rate per 1,000 inmates of 0.15 in California, 0.15 in Texas, 0.09 in Florida, 0.17 among the 50 states and 0.13 in New York.
- DOCS' 20-year suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 inmates, compared to an age-adjusted rate of 15 for Americans across the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- Among inmates in disciplinary housing, incidents of self-injury declined by 58 percent between 1995-2001, while the number of attempted suicides dropped 76 percent during the same period.
- On mental health issues:
- There were 2,235 inmates in maximum-security disciplinary housing units at the end of May 2002. Of those, 505 (or 23 percent) were on the state Office of Mental Health (OMH) caseload - not the "anywhere from 30 and 60 percent of inmates" touted by the Association.
- While the Association contends 15 percent of all inmates "have been diagnosed with a serious, persistent or significant mental illness," OMH reports that only 10 percent of inmates have been diagnosed as requiring any services, the most serious being the half of them requiring medication.
- Since Governor Pataki took office, OMH prison staffing has increased 53 percent, from 232 positions to the current 354.
- Since 1995, 47,765 prison employees have been trained on mental health topics. It begins with four hours at the Training Academy for uniformed personnel. All staff receive in-service training from OMH on sensitivity to mental health issues. OMH also provides training for prison staff working on OMH units. All maximum-security prison staff receive annual OMH training.
- New York is the only state in the nation where the Chicago-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations has accredited every prison OMH unit.