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:

October 21, 2003

Prison chief criticizes overall bias, inaccuracies in Correctional Association report;
says its inmate agenda, improper attempts at discovery do not require detailed response

Commissioner Glenn S. Goord said today that he will not provide a point-by-point response to the biased and inaccurate "Lockdown New York" report released today by the Correctional Association of New York (CANY).

"This report is biased on its face, reflects the political agenda of this inmate lobbying group and attempts to conduct improper legal discovery for a pending lawsuit," Commissioner Goord said. "The law requires that CANY send its reports to the Legislature - not to me - for whatever response or action it deems appropriate. I think CANY should follow the law."

Commissioner Goord listed three reasons why CANY will not receive a response from him to this report focusing on mental health services in disciplinary housing units.

The first reason is the involvement of Jennifer Wynn, CANY's Prison Visiting Project director. In an Aug. 26 Associated Press story, CANY executive director Robert Gangi is quoted as saying that Ms. Wynn wrote this report. But, during the same time as she was writing the report, she was abusing CANY's special mail privileges - in order to cover up her ongoing but improper personal relationship with an inmate housed in the very same disciplinary housing confinement that is the subject of her report. That is a clear conflict of interests. On Aug. 25, Commissioner Goord barred her from state prisons, except for access to their visiting rooms, in response to her misconduct.

The second reason is the timing of the report. CANY's "research" into inmate mental health issues coincides with the period during which others, including the Legal Aid Society and Prisoners' Legal Services, were preparing a federal lawsuit on exactly the same issues.

Commissioner Goord said, "I do not know whether there was any intentional cooperation between CANY and those filing Disability Advocates Inc. v. New York State Office of Mental Health et al in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in May 2002. However, that lawsuit is in the discovery stage. Discovery for this lawsuit should be initiated in the court room, not through the back door. CANY officials knew, when they started concocting this report, that it would be issued during the time that discovery was in progress for the federal lawsuit. It is disingenuous for CANY to now expect me to answer its questions outside of the courtroom on matters it clearly knows are being litigated inside of it."

The third reason is the report's misdirection. Chapter 398 § 16 of the 1973 Laws of New York withdrew CANY's authority to"inspect and examine" prisons. Its sole remaining authority is to "visit" prisons and annually report to the Legislature on "their state and condition."

Commissioner Goord said, "Instead, CANY sent me a draft copy of this report in August with the expectation that I would respond to it by Sept. 4. I chose not to. I believe CANY should follow the law and send its report where the law mandates and in the form the law requires."

Commissioner Goord said, "I read no further than the first few pages of the 47-page draft report. In those few pages, CANY sets up so it can knock down a number of straw men and phony issues in order to intentionally misrepresent this system and its operations."

He noted, for example, that the report states there is "increasing awareness today of America's grim incarceration statistics," lamenting the increasing prison population. DOCS research finds that the nation's prison population grew from 1,303,757 in December 1999 to 1,380,370 in December 2002, an increase of 6 percent.

The CANY report, however, ignores the fact that New York's prison population declined by more than 8 percent over the same period, from 71,898 inmates down to 66,745. Today's population is 65,530. CANY also fails to note that the number of "state readies" - sentenced felons housed in county jails ready to enter state prison when there is room for them - has fallen more than 90 percent, from its peak of 4,425 offenders in July 1999 to today's 415.

The report also fails to note that Governor Pataki's initiatives in support of alternatives for nonviolent offenders have led to more than 51,000 inmate releases prior to completion of their court-set minimum sentences. CANY also ignores the fact that today's prison population is 1,220 fewer than the 66,750 incarcerated when Governor Pataki took office in January 1995.

Commissioner Goord said, "These facts that CANY chooses to ignore are crucial for anyone wishing to paint an intelligent, accurate picture of New York's prisons today."

He also said CANY misrepresents The 2001 Corrections Yearbook data listing the number of inmates locked up around-the-clock in administrative segregation, disciplinary segregation and protective custody by state on Jan. 1, 2001. He said CANY compared solely the second category. But the Yearbook clearly explains that while the requirements to enter "ad seg" may differ from disciplinary segregation, the housing is the same. The major difference it reports is that inmates in disciplinary confinement have a fixed sentence, while those in "ad seg" are locked up for indefinite periods. In fact, Texas officials say 6,000 inmates in "ad seg" are locked up around-the-clock for indefinite sentences solely because they have been identified as gang members. California reports the vast majority of its 5,982 inmates in "ad seg" are locked up indefinitely for disciplinary reasons. Protective custody inmates are held in virtually the same conditions as the other two groups.

Adding up all the categories of inmates locked up around-the-clock with minimum privileges - regardless of the label attached to their status - shows Texas with 9,239 inmates in such status and California with 8,775. The Yearbook total for New York is 5,961 for all three categories.

The Corrections Yearbook also notes the percentage of inmates locked up in New York (9) is lower than that in Arkansas (17), the District of Columbia (16), Missouri (12) or Tennessee (10).

New York has 5,355 disciplinary beds - 2,649 in single-occupancy cells and 2,706 in 1,353 double-occupancy cells. There are 5,026 inmates currently in disciplinary status. Of them, 3,463 are generally serving confinement sentences of 90 days or more in Special Housing Unit status and 1,563 are serving shorter sentences in "keeplock" status in their own general confinement cells.

The CANY report also fails to note that the number of New York inmates in disciplinary status (in disciplinary units plus those "keeplocked") has declined from 6,300 in January 2000 to 5,026 today. That is a 20 percent decline during a period in which the inmate population declined by 8 percent.

Commissioner Goord said, "The inmates confined in disciplinary housing are 'the worst of the worst.' The majority of all inmates committed violent crimes on our streets and many of them continue to violate the rules even in our prisons. But the fact that inmates know we will lock them up for misbehavior contributes to the fact that inmate-on-staff and inmate-on-inmate assaults are at 20-year lows. That increases prison safety for the employees who work in these facilities every day. It also removes disruptive inmates so the balance can apply themselves to positive programs. The public benefits when these offenders are released better prepared to live law-abiding lives."

Commissioner Goord said that the report intentionally misrepresents some of New York's disciplinary housing units as "super maxes." He said, "Every inmate comes into New York's prisons with a clean slate. If they choose to misbehave and violate prison rules, they earn a disciplinary sentence of a specific length for that infraction. That is not how a 'super max' operates."

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons, for example, placed mobster John Gotti in solitary confinement in a "super max" because of his crime of commitment, not because of any misbehavior committed after he entered prison. There was no time limit set on his placement. There was nothing he could do to reduce his time or earn privileges. He remained there until he died.

Commissioner Goord said "CANY argues that such loss of control in a 'super max' has a major negative impact on inmates, psychologically and emotionally. I don't agree with that. Either way, 'super max' conditions do not exist in our prisons, CANY's misrepresentations notwithstanding."

He said New York inmates can earn "time cuts" and privileges by improved behavior not only at Southport and Upstate, which serve as disciplinary prisons, but also in the disciplinary housing units at the other 15 maximum-security prisons as well as in the 29 disciplinary housing units at medium-security prisons. The length of disciplinary sanctions statewide has dropped from an average sentence of 253 days with 180 days served in 1997 to 154-day sentences with 130 days served last year.

Commissioner Goord said, "CANY may tell its tales in its report, to advance its lobbying agenda and that of its inmate clients. But the truth tells a different story. If CANY cannot accurately relate all these basic facts, there is no reason for me to respond to the mirage that this report creates."

"For my part, I will continue to focus upon the administration and operation of a prison system that criminal justice experts and nonpartisan observers have called a national model for the safe and secure operation of correctional facilities, while providing inmates with humane and constitutional confinement," Commissioner Goord concluded.