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State, Union battle over staffing levels at state prisons

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The New York State Corrections Officer and Police Benevolence Association (NYSCOPBA) and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDOCCS) have dramatically different views of the current staffing levels at the state’s correctional facilities.

According to NYSCOPBA, prisons are “dangerously understaffed,” but NYSDOCCS claims the assertion is “inaccurate and misleading.”

NYSCOPBA claims in a news release that according to figures calculated by NYSDOCCS the approximately 56,000 inmates should be supervised by a security staff of 18,205 officers. Using statistics that NYSCOPBA officials say come from NYSDOCCS, the release says there are 17,478 security personnel. A separate fact sheet linked on the NYSCOPBA release says the state prison system houses 49,241 inmates.

A NYSDOCCS news release claims there are 19,001 security staff in New York state prisons.

NYSCOPBA Staffing and Grievance Specialist Mike Morrow says the NYSDOCCS figure includes sergeants, who oversee officers rather than inmates, as well as institutional safety officers, community correction center assistants, and those working for the Inspector General’s office. Morrow said the NYSDOCCS figure also include front-line corrections officers in training or on some type of leave.

Of the 220 officers in training, NYSDOCCS says 122 of them will be ready for duty within a month.

The NYSCOPBA release claims that a recent round of dorm consolidations at medium-security facilities, including Bare Hill Correctional Facility in Malone, “demonstrated a failure to sufficiently staff state prisons.”

NYSDOCCS spokesman Peter Cutler said the dorm move is temporary and should the inmate population rise they will be quickly returned to their original configuration.

A NYSCOPBA fact sheet says the Bare Hill consolidation moved 53 inmates to other dorms. Mr. Cutler said in the week since the move there have been no reported inmate-on-staff assaults.

The NYSCOPBA release states that medium security dorms were staffed by two corrections officers in previous years, but are now only guarded by one guard at a time.

“During the midnight shift, officers are physically locked alone inside these dorms with the inmates,” the NYSCOPBA release states, adding that they have to call and wait for backup in the event of a disruption.

Mr. Cutler claims that the medium-security dorms have always been staffed by only one officer at night. He did not immediately return a request for information regarding how many staff were assigned to a medium-security dorm in previous years.

The releases go on to give contradictory information regarding the number of inmate-on-staff assaults in recent years. The NYSCOPBA release claims a 7.6 percent rise, but does not break the numbers down year-by-year. The NYSDOCCS release shows there were 567 inmate-on-staff assaults in 2009, followed by 576 in 2010, tapering off to 563 in 2011.

“What they (NYSDOCCS) are doing compared to what we do is they’re including 2012,” Mr. Morrow said.

The NYSDOCCS release claims that the total number of the assaults in this portion of the year compared to the same portion last year shows a 21 percent drop.

The NYSCOPBA release additionally claims that escapes have quadrupled since 2009, but doesn’t provide exact figures. Mr. Morrow, in a phone interview, claims that the number also includes escape attempts, including an inmate being found with contraband that indicates he/she may try to escape. NYSDOCCS only has escape figures leading up to 2010, which show one escape in 2009 and three in 2010. The number does not include attempts.

“Everyday when they go to work, NYSCOPBA members put their lives on the line... The state should support those brave men and women by fully staffing our prisons,” NYSCOPBA President Donn Rowe said in a news release. “The state should embrace the opportunity to get all the facts out – publically and transparently – about how our system is run.

“Our priorities are to run our facilities in the safest and most efficient manner possible,” Mr. Cutler said. “We have a responsibility to correct misinformation.”

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