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:

Monday, February 16, 2003

Prison commissioner delays forced reassignment of staff;
decision will protect seniority rights of all employees

The forced reassignment of 260 employees at six double-bunked prisons will be delayed in order to protect the seniority rights of workers at all 70 prisons, Commissioner Glenn S. Goord of the Department of Correctional Services announced today.

The 245 uniformed and 15 civilian workers, who were originally scheduled to be reassigned by March 31, are employed at the Watertown, Cape Vincent, Riverview, Marcy, Orleans and Collins prisons.

Instead, Commissioner Goord said, "I have directed that the forced reassignment of staff be delayed at these six prisons until after the state's fiscal 2004-05 budget is enacted. By doing so, their employees will know the final plan for the coming fiscal year and can then plan accordingly." Inmate transfers from those prisons will also be limited.

The affected employees are those filling jobs that were established at these six facilities in the 1990s when the state increased their capacity by adding 2,206 top double bunks. A total of 1,314 of those top bunks have already been "vacated" -- emptied, but left in place for emergency use. Of the remaining 892 beds, only 285 of them are occupied today by inmates. Those inmates were to be attrited by the end of next month to allow the staff reassignments to proceed.

The number of occupied top bunks has declined as the prison population dropped by more than 9 percent, from a high of 71,898 inmates in December 1999 to today's 65,136 inmates.

In announcing the delay in reassignments, Commissioner Goord said, "I am mindful of the negative impact forced reassignment has on our employees as well as their families. I think delaying staff transfers until a clearer picture develops through the budget process will allow employees to make better, more well-informed choices."

The decision will also benefit the 105 Camp Pharsalia workers who will be displaced next fiscal year under the plan to close three minimum-security facilities. Also scheduled to close are the minimum-security camp adjacent to the Mt. McGregor prison and the Fulton work release facility in Manhattan. The closings will require the reassignment of Pharsalia's 71 uniformed and 34 civilian employees, McGregor camp's approximately 74 uniformed and 10 civilian employees plus Fulton's 59 uniformed and 48 civilian employees.

Commissioner Goord noted that many of the employees at the six double-bunked prisons might have opted this fiscal year to use their seniority to reassign to the prisons geographically closest to their current posts -- including the Mid-State, Oneida and Mohawk prisons in Oneida County.

"Those are precisely the same prisons that Pharsalia employees might be looking at next fiscal year, since Pharsalia is even closer to Oneida County," Commissioner Goord said. "Reassigning the staff at the six double-bunked facilities this fiscal year could fill those central New York vacancies before the Pharsalia staff is reassigned next fiscal year.

"That would set up a scenario in which Pharsalia officers -- among the most senior in the state -- would have to look even further from home next fiscal year for new job assignments," the Commissioner said.

"By delaying all the reassignments until the budget is done," Commissioner Goord said, "all of the affected officers can put their names on reassignment lists once they see the enacted downsizing plan for the next fiscal year. Those reassignment lists will then ensure all officers have an equal opportunity to transfer based upon their seniority. As part of the chain-reaction caused by those reassignments, employees at all prisons will know what opportunities exist for them as well."

"This avoids a Catch-22," Commissioner Goord said. "If officers put their names on reassignment lists today and a vacancy occurs tomorrow, our long-standing practice dictates that they must transfer. I think it will be fairer to staff and their families to wait until the budget is enacted and they know our final plans and only then ask them to make decisions on their future."

The current year's budget does not fund the 260 targeted jobs. It anticipated those workers would voluntarily transfer to fill some of the 360 uniformed and 580 civilian funded but vacant jobs at other prisons across the state. The budget anticipated those voluntary transfers because the staff in double bunk positions at those facilities have known since October 2000 that their temporary jobs were targeted as the inmate population declined and top bunks were vacated. The staff to be reassigned are those employees who have chosen not to relocate over the past three years.

The closure of the two camps will accommodate half the decline of 1,000 inmates expected in the fiscal year that begins April 1. The closure of Fulton represents the implementation of an initiative contained in the state's fiscal 2001-02 budget.

Commissioner Goord said, "The change in the reassignment schedule means we will continue to rely upon the professionalism and cooperation of our employees around the state to go the extra step in addressing the staff vacancies at their prisons. Most of these vacancies occurred because we froze hiring three years ago to ensure the employees facing reassignment would have job opportunities within the system. After the budget is passed and these transfers occur, we will then begin addressing the remaining vacancies across the system. Until then, we will continue to fill only what we deem to be the most critical uniformed and civilian vacancies."

(Editor's note: The Commissioner's press release detailing these initiatives is on the Department's web site, dated Jan. 23, 2004. For an expanded view of Commissioner Goord's position on these initiatives, see his commentary in the March edition of DOCS/TODAY just posted on the Department's web site.)