Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

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

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182
www.doccs.ny.gov

For immediate release:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

DOCS report details New York prison safety and oversight; updates public on secure and constitutional operations

New York prisons are seeing the fewest assaults committed by inmates in 25 years, according to the 104-page "Prison Safety in New York" report released today by Commissioner Glenn S. Goord of the Department of Correctional Services. The report is available on the Department's website at www.doccs.ny.gov in pdf format  1,836 KB or html format.

He said the reduction in assaults by inmates is contributing to a decline in the number of inmates serving disciplinary housing sentences, and in the length of the disciplinary sentences that they serve.

"The data show our prisons today are safer than ever before for staff, inmates and visitors," Commissioner Goord added. "That allows rehabilitative programs to operate, contributing to a 42 percent decrease in the number of inmates returning to prison for the commission of new crimes. And that means our streets are safer. Fewer returning inmates also reduces prison costs for taxpayers."

Governor George E. Pataki's prison initiatives have fueled those successes, Commissioner Goord said. He cited the Governor's record-setting construction of maximum-security beds and the prosecution of inmates who commit felonies in prison-sending the message that criminal activity will not be tolerated on our streets or in our prisons. That is balanced by a system that allows deserving nonviolent inmates to earn early release, while reducing the opportunity for misbehavior by making participation in rehabilitative programs mandatory for all inmates.

"While we can point to many successes in the operation of the prison system," Commissioner Goord said, "we must also stress that prisons are, by their very nature, tension-filled institutions. While we can and must do everything possible to reduce those tensions, tempers can flare and incidents can occur with hardly a moment's notice.

"The reduction in violent incidents is a testament to the importance of the tools provided by the Governor and the professional manner in which they are utilized by the more than 31,597 professional and dedicated men and women working behind the walls of our 69 prisons housing approximately 63,000 inmates," Commissioner Goord said.

"This Department's first responsibility is to ensure that our employees can come to work and go home every day without being attacked by inmates. It is also our mandate to ensure the secure operation of our prisons for the protection of the communities that welcomed them into their midst. We must also provide for the safety of inmates and ensure that they come to prison as punishment and not for punishment. This report details our attempts to meet all of these goals," Commissioner Goord said.

"As New Yorkers continue our ongoing public debate on state prison issues, it is my hope that the details and statistics provided in this report will raise the factual level of that discussion," he added.

Among the statistics contained in the "Prison Safety in New York" report are these:

  • Only 41 percent of inmates are now confined in cells, with the majority housed in military-style barracks and dormitory-style, multiple-occupancy rooms. (Section I & III)
  • The rate of inmate-on-staff assaults was 8 incidents per 1,000 inmates in 2005, the lowest rate since 1981 when current record-keeping began. The rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults was 11 per 1,000 inmates last year. Except for a rate of 10 per 1,000 inmates in 2004, the 2005 rate is also the lowest since 1981. (Section I & VI)
  • State prisons around the nation have seen an average 7 percent increase in their inmate populations between December 1999 and 2004, the latest year for which final data are available. New York's prison population declined by 11 percent over the same period. (Section II & III)
  • Despite the declining inmate population, spending for inmate medical care has increased 103 percent since Fiscal 1996 while spending on inmate mental health care has increased by 300 percent over the same period. (Section IV)
  • More than 2,000 prison beds are set aside in special units for inmates who cannot function in general population, including beds in mental health units, protective custody, therapeutic communities and specialized care for sensorially disabled, mentally retarded or developmentally disabled inmates. (Section III)
  • 95 percent of prison inmates are assigned to paid programs that include academic, vocational, treatment, Division of Industries or work assignments. (Section I & IX)
  • 71,578 nonviolent inmates have earned early release under programs supported or initiated by Governor Pataki, including the Willard drug treatment program, "merit time" and Shock Incarceration. (Section II & V)
  • New York is one of the few large state prison systems wherein every institution has been accredited by the American Correctional Association. New York is the only state where every prison mental health unit has been accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. (Section II)
  • Inmates continue to rely upon the Inmate Grievance Program to resolve complaints, lodging 45,345 complaints last year against prison operations. Inmates receive at least partially favorable dispositions in 33 percent of cases. The Department has reduced the time it takes to resolve grievances from 66 days in 2000 to 57 days last year. (Section IX)
  • The number of inmates in disciplinary confinement for misbehavior fell 11 percent from 5,271 in December 1997 to 4,680 in December of last year. 1997 is used as the base because that is the year before 3,100 new disciplinary housing beds began coming on line. (Section VI)
  • The length of disciplinary confinement sentences imposed upon inmates fell from 238 days in 1998, the year the new disciplinary housing beds began coming on line, to 149 days last year, a reduction of three months. The average time served on those sentences declined by two months over the same period, from 184 day in 1998 to 124 days last year. (Section VI)
  • At least two states lock down larger numbers of inmates around-the-clock than does New York and six states lock down a higher percentage of inmates. (Section VI)
  • Since 1994, the Department has spent $35 million for fixed camera equipment to monitor movement and activities by staff and inmates alike across the prison system. (Section IX)
  • The Department has spent more than $2 million for hand-held and stationary scanning equipment to frisk inmate visitors, who totaled 771,092 last year. Many of them arrived on "free" buses for which taxpayers spend $1.3 million annually. Nearly 8,300 inmates had overnight visits last year with 13,853 relatives in the Family Reunion Program. (Section V & VII)
  • The Department's rules forbid the use of still cameras to photograph strip searches of inmates. It has set strict conditions on the videotaping of such searches and established stringent controls on access to and retention of such videos. (Section VII )
  • A Sex Crime Unit was established in the Department's Inspector General's office in 1996 after Governor Pataki signed his Department-supported bill to make sexual contact between staff and inmates a felony. Since then, 75 cases of staff-on-inmate misconduct have been referred for outside prosecution. (Section IX)
  • While the federal courts require states to provide law libraries or attorneys for inmates, New York provides both. Last year alone, taxpayers spent $2.5 million just to keep 93 inmate law libraries up to date. (Section X)

Commissioner Goord said, "These statistics represent only a small percentage of the data and facts contained in our report. I recommend that New Yorkers read the report in its entirety on our website." The report is available on the Department's website at www.doccs.ny.gov in pdf format  1,836 KB or html format.

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