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Prison Safety in New York
“Working together for public protection”

Programs

Security

Administration

Health

Glenn S. Goord
Commissioner
New York State
Department of Correctional Services
April 2006

STATE OF NEW YORK

DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONAL SERVICES
THE HARRIMAN STATE CAMPUS
1220 WASHINGTON AVENUE
ALBANY, N.Y. 12226-2050

GLENN S. GOORD
COMMISSIONER

April 2006
To the reader:
This Department’s role in providing for the public’s protection begins with the incarceration of
felons. It continues through preparing them for release, since more than 90 percent of offenders will
eventually leave our custody.
In between, the role of our 31,597 employees is far more than serving as the state’s jailers.
It certainly begins with security. As of March 30, those ranks include 19,701 Correction Officers
plus 1,935 uniformed supervisors working around the clock to maintain safe and secure prisons. Their
efforts are augmented by 9,961 civilians who also play a major role in preparing inmates for release.
There are the teachers, vocational instructors and counselors who try to impart the tools to help inmates
be successful upon their release. Doctors and nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists treat the body and
the mind. Secretaries, food service employees and power plant operators keep our prisons functioning
like the cities behind walls that they are.
Overriding all else is a commitment to keep our employees and inmates safe. Employees have
the right to finish their shifts unmolested and uninjured. Inmates have the right to come to prison as
punishment and not for punishment, either from other inmates or prison staff.
That’s what this report is about: providing safety and security for staff as well as inmates. This
report is designed to give the public a look behind the imposing prison walls and ominous fencing
systems that surround our 69 correctional facilities housing 62,980 offenders on March 31.
This report focuses on systems and procedures designed to avoid prison incidents, mass
disturbances and riots. We write about the constant efforts of employees to make a safe system even
more secure, as well as administrators who use their experience to write procedures and protocols that
make prisons safer for staff, inmates and surrounding communities.
Events at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere have led many to wonder how we in America
treat inmates in our own prisons. Many rightfully ask what sorts of procedures are in place to protect
them and safeguard their constitutional rights.
This report attempts to answer these and other questions about New York’s prison system.
God Bless America,

Glenn S. Goord,
Commissioner

Table of Contents
I.

Commitment to safe, secure and constitutional prisons

1

Only 41 percent of inmates housed in cells
Programs promote prison security
II.

World events spotlight America’s prisons

3

New York prison population drops while others rise
New York’s one of few accredited prison systems
Searching for answers, not excuses
III.

Reception: Protecting the system, planning inmate programs

6

Clarifying confusing sentencing laws
Gathering security information on inmates
Classification levels protect staff, inmates
IV.

Constantly improving, inmate health care meets standards

11

Spending doubles on inmate medical care
Mental health spending increases 300 percent
V.

Promoting good behavior serves staff, inmates alike

13

Meriting early release
Good time off the “max”
Earning Eligibility for early release
Geography encourages good behavior
Family Reunion necessitates good behavior
Honor housing has its rewards
Time tolls for misbehavior
VI.

Sanctions for inmate misbehavior protect others, staff
Three-tiered disciplinary system
SHU expansion protects staff, inmates
Pataki completes record cell expansion
Eight states use lock down more than New York
Inmates earn their way in, out of SHU
Misbehavior can draw added sentence
Staff injured protecting inmates
The myth of the New York “super-max”

16

VII.

Prison protocols provide safety, security for all

22

Security is a daily challenge
Contraband detection an ongoing process
Body searches preserve inmate privacy
Equipment improves searches, lessens intrusion
Intercepting and confiscating contraband
VIII.

Maintaining a professional security force

28

Close screening of Officer recruits
Intensive training begins at Albany Academy
Annual training keeps security staff up to date
“Bidding” controls Correction Officer assignments
IX.

Internal monitoring promotes prison safety

31

Inmates support, use grievance procedures
Video surveillance monitors staff, inmates
Inspector General is “in-house cop”
No tolerance for sexual abuse of inmates
Department monitors gangs, members
Monitoring inmate program participation
X.

External scrutiny enhances transparency
Tax dollars pay for some inmate letters
State commission wields broad powers
Extensive oversight by other state agencies
Prison gates open to outside review
Researchers, media welcome in prisons
CANYS afforded access
Courts demands FOIL transparency
Taxpayers fund extensive inmate law libraries
Taxpayers provide some inmate attorneys
Federal scrutiny helps protect inmates
Implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act
Congressional action complicates prison security
Attachments follow page 44

37

Prison Safety in New York

I. Commitment to safe, secure and constitutional prisons
he New York State Department of Correctional Services acknowledges and accepts its legal, moral and ethical responsibility to:
• Provide a safe and secure environment for employees
who work inside of prisons, ensuring they leave facilities safely each time they conclude their business;

T

• Provide for the humane and constitutional confinement of felons, in a safe atmosphere promoting rehabilitative programs that offer inmates the opportunity
to return to society as productive and law-abiding
members, and
• Provide protection for the thousands of outsiders who
become part of the prison community on a daily basis.
They include outside volunteers, inmate visitors and
contractors, as well as employees of other state agencies, state legislators, judges and prosecutors.
Governor George E. Pataki understands that the fulfillment
of these core responsibilities is extremely complicated, very expensive – and absolutely necessary. As a result, he consistently
proposes and supports initiatives providing the Department
with the tools necessary to foster a safe and secure correctional
environment.
However, despite the dedicated and professional efforts of
staff on a daily basis, the task remains a formidable one: prisons
by their very nature are inherently tense environments for staff,
inmates and visitors alike. The goal is to reduce tensions and
therefore violence to the lowest levels possible. The public record shows New York is accomplishing that goal, with rates of
inmate-on-staff and inmate-on-inmate violence at their lowest
levels in a quarter-century.
New York state law mandates that the Department offer rehabilitative programs that allow inmates to avail themselves of the
opportunity to prepare themselves to live as law-abiding citizens once they are released from prison.
The record shows that inmates
released in 2003, the latest year
for which full data are available,
return to prison for the commission of new crimes within two
years at a rate that is 42 percent
lower than among inmates released in 1994.
That means fewer offenders
released from prison are being
convicted of new crimes against
the people of New York state.
That contributes to the historic
reduction in crime that has been
fueled in large part by Governor
Pataki’s criminal justice policies
since 1995.
The Department attempts to
Page 1

meet its goals in a prison system whose physical appearance is,
in many ways, more akin to a small college campus or industrial
park than the proverbial “Big House.”
When many New Yorkers think of prisons, they imagine going “up the river” to maximum-security prisons like Sing Sing,
made famous by movies such as 1930’s The Big House, which
was actually filmed inside Sing Sing. These films show every
prisoner living in a cell, marching in step during their few hours
out of them. That was the state of America’s prisons in the
1930s and 1940s. Prison genre movies were often shot on the
cellblocks inside the massive walls of the fortress-like penitentiaries then representative of America’s prisons.
History has shown that, even when those inmates were
locked in individual cells virtually around-the-clock, a certain
degree of violence still occurred when inmates were allowed to
leave their cells for such limited activities as visits, showers or
exercise.
Only 41 percent of inmates housed in cells
Of New York’s 63,028 inmates on Jan. 18, 2006, only 25,995
– or 41 percent – were housed in cells. The remaining 37,033
inmates were housed in multiple-occupancy dormitory rooms
or military-style barracks. If the perimeter fences, rolls of razor
wire and high-tech intrusion detection systems that surround
many medium-security prisons were removed, the facilities
would resemble office complexes or modest college campuses.
Minimum-security prisons, such as work release facilities and
outdoor work camps, have no secure perimeter at all.
Regardless of security level, inmates now leave their general
confinement housing units every day to go to the mess hall, program areas, work assignments, infirmaries, law and general libraries, commissaries, group events and family programs. They
also attend religious services and participate in outdoor as well
as indoor recreation activities.

Providing security and safety are the primary responsibilities
facing a trained, professional and dedicated work force. Violent
offenders are now let out of their
maximum-security general confinement cells to interact for some
16 hours each day, compared to
Percent of Offenders Returned to Prison
the 6-8 hours of daily out-of-cell
After Tw o Years For a New Felony
time allowed during the era of the
Conviction
13.7%
15.0%
proverbial “Big House.” In lower
security dormitories and open bar10.8%
racks, inmates can interact around
8.2%
10.0%
8.1%
the clock.
5.0%
0.0%
1994

1997

2000

Year of Release

2003

The Department believes that
inmates are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment.
Their punishment is deprivation of
liberty for a period set by law. It is
the state’s responsibility to keep
inmates, staff and visitors safe in a
constitutional setting that offers
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

inmates the opportunity to prepare themselves for eventual release. Very simply, unsafe prisons will not be tolerated by Department administrators or employees, elected officials, or by
the general public.

Division of Industries that employs 3,000 inmates on a sliding
scale to make office supplies
and other products for sale to
New York state, its political
subdivisions and eleemosynary
groups.

Inmate Assaults on Staff & Inmates
Inmate Assaults on Staff
Inmate Assaults on Inmates
2,000

1,500

New York is serious about its
responsibility to provide safe
1,000
prisons. New York had 19,576
Correction Officers and 62,732
500
inmates at the end of 2005. By
comparison, California had
28,000 Officers supervising
0
168,035 inmates, Texas had
1981
23,720 Officers and 139,221 inmates, while Florida’s 81,199 inmates were supervised by 12,096 Officers.

Regardless of pay grade,
many inmates send money
home to support their loved
ones.
Inmates who are not in paid
programs fall into one of two
categories:
1984

1987

1990

In each state, security staff must be assigned to provide coverage around the clock and to accommodate all the reasons for
which staff can be off-duty or working but off-post. But New
York’s commitment to full inmate programming requires intensive security to provide coverage in all the areas inside and outside of prison where inmates participate in those programs.
Staffing is also intensive because of the increased need for
Officers in open barracks- or dormitory-style medium- or minimum-security general confinement housing versus general
confinement cell blocks in maximum-security prisons. That’s
because one Officer, for example, can monitor a 100-cell block
after all inmates are locked in for the night. But in a lower security prison, one Officer may be responsible for a dormitory of
just 50 to 60 inmates.
Programs promote prison security
One of the ways to reduce prison tensions is to offer an array
of rehabilitative programs that provide inmates with a positive
use of their time.

1993

1996

1999

2002

2005

• Inmates not programmable generally include those ordered to be transferred out of prison for
court appearances, plus those in disciplinary housing
not involved in GED or other cell-study programs.
There are approximately 4,700 inmates in disciplinary
housing and 600 “out to courts” at any time.

• There are approximately 3,400 “unemployed” inmates
at any given time. These generally are inmates who
have just been transferred in from other prisons and
have not yet appeared before program committees to
receive paid assignments, inmates who have recently
completed one paid program and are temporarily unemployed while awaiting reassignment to another paid
program, plus inmates who have just been released
from disciplinary confinement and will be appearing
before program committees to be assigned to paid programs.
Program subjects include academic education, vocational
training, substance abuse and alcohol treatment, sex offender
counseling, alternatives to violence, parenting programs, and
transitional services.

Such intensive secu- “... inmates are sent to prison as punishment and not for punSome inmates are
rity staffing in New York ishment ... It is the state’s responsibility to keep inmates, staff
given
facility work asaugments programs by
signments,
which inand
visitors
safe
in
a
constitutional
setting
that
offers
inmates
providing the secure setclude
maintenance
of
the
opportunity
to
prepare
themselves
for
eventual
release.”
ting in which they can
prison
grounds,
working
operate safely. In turn,
in food preparation, running the laundry and cleaning buildprograms augment security by productively filling hours that
ings. Inmates are also assigned to work within the Division of
inmates could otherwise devote to making weapons, planning
Industries.
an escape or a riot, or some other disruption of facility order that
Inmate work programs teach inmates important lessons, rewould threaten staff and inmates alike.
gardless
of the type of work being performed. For many inApproximately 95 percent of the 63,028 inmates under cusmates,
it
is
the first time they are expected to report to a job at a
tody on Jan. 18, 2006, were eligible for programming. All were
regular
time.
assigned to paid slots in academic, vocational, drug treatment,
work and other program assignments.

Inmates are paid an average of one dollar each day. The payments are stipends that allow many otherwise indigent inmates
to afford basic amenities through the commissary or other
sources.
The annual inmate payroll is $16 million. That excludes the
April 2006

For others, it is the first time they had a job where performance mattered. Some also find it a new experience to work at a
job where their performance may depend upon the same from
others, and vice versa.
In short, regardless of the job, inmates are learning or reinforcing the basic work ethics they will need to find and retain
gainful employment upon their release. q
Page 2

Prison Safety in New York

II. World events spotlight America’s prisons
he Department has long been a participant in the
on-going public discussion surrounding New York state
prisons and how they operate.
That decades-long discussion has included, among other
topics, both the rise and fall of the inmate population, ensuring
constitutional operations, maintaining sufficient prison capacity, sentencing reform, providing proper prison staffing, the operation of disciplinary housing units, offering inmates mean-

T

dered, what does that say about how we treat American prisoners here in our own correctional facilities?

This report represents the Department’s answer, in one place,
to that and other questions about its operations. This report is
based upon a review of protocols and procedures, as well as a
look at data across the system.
New York prison population drops while others rise
One of the “serious problems” some see is what they call the
b u rg e o n i n g s t a t e
prison populations
around the nation and
Prison Populations: NY vs All 50 States
78,000
the attendant overcrowding of correc1,274,656
tional facilities.
75,000

1,300,000

1,250,000

Number of Inmates

1,189,799
1,200,000

1,150,000

72,000

New York

71,472

All 50 States
69,000

1,100,000

66,000

63,751

62,732

1,050,000

1,000,000

63,000

60,000
1999

2004

2005

End of Year

ingful programs and the delivery of inmate medical and mental
health care.
Revelations of the abuse and mistreatment of Iraqi inmates
by American soldiers staffing the
infamous Abu
Ghraib prison approximately 20
miles west of
Baghdad
sent
shock
waves
around the world in
2004. That shock
continues with the
continued release
this year of new undated photos and
videos of inmate
abuse.
If that is how
U.S. soldiers treat
foreign prisoners
overseas, many
Americans wonPage 3

jor way.

Across the country,
the combined populations of state prison
systems saw a 7 percent increase from
1,189,799 offenders on
Dec. 31, 1999 to
1,274,656 on Dec. 31,
2004, the latest date for
which national figures
are available.
Governor Pataki’s
“right sizing” policies
have, however, allowed New York to
buck that trend in a ma-

The result is that New York’s state prison population declined by 11 percent
over the same period. New York’s under custody prison
population declined
from 71,472 inmates
at the end of 1999 to
63,699 inmates on
Dec. 31, 2004. Last
year ended with
62,732 inmates – the
sixth consecutive
year that New York’s
under custody prison
population declined
from the year before.

Correction Officers help safeguard staff and inmates from their posts in yard towers.

“Right sizing”
consists, first, of
building the 4,950
maximum-security
beds necessary to
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

house violent offenders appropriately.
The “flip side” is to offer deserving nonviolent offenders the
opportunity to earn early release through good behavior coupled with positive participation in rehabilitative programs.
As shown at right, that has allowed 71,578 nonviolent offenders to earn early release since Governor Pataki took office
through last year. That allows New York taxpayers to avoid the
construction of 5,396 lower-security prison beds.
Among those offended by the actions at Abu Ghraib were the
employees of this Department, who are committed to housing
offenders in a constitutional setting and offering them rehabilitative programs.
They are proud of the fact that New York operates its prison
system in such a manner that no court has ever seen fit to issue
system-wide conditions of confinement orders or to impose
population caps. Those facts are even more striking when one
realizes that taxpayers pay to teach inmates how to use the publicly funded law libraries available to them in virtually every
prison around the state. Those law libraries often rival those
found in the offices of most law firms. In addition, millions of
tax dollars are appropriated annually to pay lawyers to represent inmates.
Prisoners’Legal Services (PLS) spent taxpayer dollars in the
1980s to sue the Department in federal court. It argued that
Fishkill Correctional Facility typified what PLS alleged were
the unconstitutional conditions it said were rampant across the
system.
Across the nation, many states have settled similar lawsuits
out of a fear that a loss in court could lead to system-wide judicial orders.
This Department instead chose to take this case to trial. In a
62-page decision handed down in 1987, U.S. District Court
Judge Louis L. Stanton upheld the Department’s operations on
the facts, dismissing each and every charge levied by PLS.
New York’s one of few accredited prison systems
Staff professionalism has contributed to New York’s being
the first major prison system in the nation to see all of its prisons
earn accreditation by the American Correctional Association
(ACA). Eastern in Napanoch was the first in 1982. ACA accreditation means each New York prison meets or exceeds literally hundreds of nationally accepted standards for the operation, management and administration of correctional facilities.
Also accredited by the ACA are the Department’s Training
Academy for security personnel, the Oneida Food Production
Center which provides meals for prisons across the state, the
Division of Industries and the Department’s Central Office
headquarters in Albany.
In addition, New York remains the only state in the nation
where the Chicago-based Joint Commission on Accreditation
of Healthcare Organizations has accredited every prison unit
operated by the state Office of Mental Health.
Accreditation is more than an award certificate to be framed
and mounted on a facility wall. It represents the commitment of
individual staff members to a code of conduct and professional
April 2006

Early Release by program
January 1996 – December 2005
Merit
Time
21,270

Shock
Program
22,494

Willard
DTC
25,900

Other
1,914

Bed Savings by program
January 1996 – December 2005
Merit
Time
1,767

Shock
Program
1,876

Willard
DTC
1,254

Other
499

standards that leads to safer and more secure prisons operated in
a humane and constitutional manner.
To reinforce the Department’s policies mandating the secure
and constitutional operation of its prisons in the aftermath of
Abu Ghraib, Commissioner Goord attached a letter to all employee paychecks in May 2004. The letter outlines his expectation of their commitment to professional standards. (A copy of
this letter appears as Attachment A.)
Searching for answers, not excuses
That letter could not include the entire record of initiatives
Page 4

Prison Safety in New York

and improvements the Department has developed and implemented over the years as one of
the premier correctional systems
in the nation.

That demands investigation to determine what actually happened, and
not to simply accept the easy answers, such as those suggested in scenarios such as these:

This report cannot do so, either. Instead, it is intended to review the highlights of Governor
Pataki’s initiatives and the Department’s record in the area of
prison safety. A far lengthier
tome would be necessary to detail all efforts to improve operations of the state’s prisons.

• It might, for example, be
easy to write-off every confrontation between inmates
as the result of the increased
percentage of inmates incarcerated for violent offenses.
But that would ignore the
facts that the raw number of
inmate-on-inmate assaults is
down, as is the rate of such
incidents per thousand inmates.

This report acknowledges the
violence that occurs in prison.
Believing that even one act of violence is too many, it does not
minimize that which occurs.

• It would be simple to ascribe
any fights among inmates as
an increase in gang-related
activity – but that would
contradict the fact that fewer
inmates are being disciplined for gang-related activity based upon “tickets”
being written by front-line
Officers and other staff.

This report is intended to promote public awareness and understanding of prison safety and
security by presenting statistics
and data that welcome analysis.
It avoids the anecdotal vignettes and anonymous sources
that are the hallmark of reports
issued by prison critics.
Instead, this report documents
the details of many, but certainly
not all, of the Department’s ongoing efforts to achieve the safest correctional environment humanly possible.

Albany Training Academy (above) is accredited, as
is the Food Production Center at Oneida (below).

This report will look at the steps
the Department takes from the first
day an inmate enters the system to
provide a safe work environment for
staff, a constitutional place of confinement for inmates, and secure access for visitors. q

In spite of these processes, serious incidents with terrible consequences can and do
occur in prison.
That’s because there are no silver bullets
or magic wands to eliminate incidents in
prisons that house the state’s worst felons,
57 percent of whom are serving sentences
for violent crimes.
But prison incidents can take many
forms – inmate-on-inmate, inmate-on staff,
staff-on-inmate and even staff-on-staff misbehavior. Furthermore, outside visitors and
contractors may also be involved in incidents.
The state takes every one of these incidents seriously. It must understand why as
well as how each of these incidents occurred. Only then can it know what each incident might mean for the safety and security of those within an individual prison or
across the entire system.
Page 5

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

III. Reception: Protecting the system, planning inmates programs
he Department’s reception process is far more than the
blind acceptance of custody of thousands of felons. It is
a careful process designed to evaluate individual inmate
background as well as any dangers presented to the system or
inmates by their incarceration.
Inmate criminal and social histories assist in determining the
security level in which inmates need to be housed. They also
identify inmate medical and mental health needs. A battery of
tests also provides information on inmate aptitudes, social
skills and mental health.

T

The process also determines which rehabilitative programs
will be most beneficial in preparing inmates for release upon
completion of their sentences. Reception includes extensive education testing in both English and Spanish to determine reading and math levels. Testing of those who are not English-dominant determines placement in English as a Second
Language programs. Psychological testing determines any intellectual limitations.
All of these considerations are designed
to increase safety and
security for inmates
and staff alike. While
reception to placement in a general confinement prison may
take as little as a few
days, it can run into
months for those inmates with complex
needs or considered to
be victim-prone.

45,000
40,000
35,000
30,000
25,000
20,000
15,000
10,000

Explaining potential release dates to inmates can be as
confusing as explaining them to the public.
That’s because inmates come to prison with sentences
that are indeterminate, determinate or even a combination of both. Knowing the differences is crucial to understanding the future of sentencing in New York.
Please turn to page 7

county then notifies the Department by computer that the offender is ready for transfer into state custody. Counties deliver
all such “state ready” offenders to a designated Department reception center for initial processing, screening, testing and classification.

Documents delivered with inmates to the reception center include pre-sentence reports and criminal
history records. Also
included are detailed
Inmates under custody at end of calendar year
summaries of medical
and psychiatric reMaximum
Medium
Minimum
cords, which ensure
continuation of any
legally prescribed
medications. Reports
also detail any past assaults or other violent
acts, attempts at suicide or escape by an
inmate while in the
custody of any other
correctional facility.
All of this is set forth
in Correction Law
1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
section 601.

The Department
5,000
uses court sentencing
0
and other documents
during the reception
process to calculate
and explain release
dates to inmates. Inmates are also informed of the programs in which their positive participation will be mandatory.
They are also advised of what constitutes the acceptable behavior generally expected of them during their incarceration. That
way, inmates know “up front” what is expected of them in terms
of good conduct and positive program participation to become
eligible for release on the earliest possible date.
Gathering security information on inmates
Once an offender is sentenced, the county assembles various
documents that will accompany the inmate upon transfer to
state prison.
That transfer occurs only after all records and paperwork for
the newly-sentenced felon are completed on the local level. The
April 2006

Clarifying confusing sentencing laws

The pre-sentence
report is the single
most important document provided to the
Department. It describes in detail the circumstances of the current conviction as well as the prior criminal history of the inmate, together with other background information. It may also
include information about the crime victim as well as an assessment of the offender’s character. Among other things, corrections officials use this document to assess what specific program needs the inmate must address during confinement. The
matters that must be covered in a pre-sentence report are listed
in Criminal Procedure Law section 390.30. The law also prohibits the Department from releasing that report to the public.
A sentence of state imprisonment commences when a prisoner is sentenced to a determinate or indeterminate term of inPage 6

Prison Safety in New York

carceration of one year or more for the commission of a felony
and is transported to one of the Department’s reception centers.
To ensure an inmate is given credit for all time served, counties submit another pivotal piece of paper. It certifies the number of days an offender has served in the county jail on the offense prior to transfer to state custody. The Department will use
those “jail days” in computing the offender’s release dates. It is
an important security concern that inmates know they will serve
every day of their judicially-imposed sentences – but not one
day more. In fact, if an offender’s release date is on a weekend,
state law requires that release be moved back to Friday.
Each inmate is interviewed as part of the reception process.
That includes explaining to inmates that they may request protective custody status to separate them from the general population if the inmate can demonstrate the potential for being victim-prone. The interview process also identifies any real or potential enemies the inmate may have in prison. For example, if
the inmate previously testified against another inmate in a criminal matter, the other inmate is identified as an enemy. That information is recorded in the Department’s centralized computer
system. That alerts staff that the newly-arrived inmate and
known enemy need to be housed in different prisons.
Inmates can also be considered for involuntary protective
custody if the Department thinks the inmate is victim-prone, regardless of the inmate’s opinion. An offender known to be a police informant, for example, could be placed in involuntary protective custody even if the offender opposed such placement.
The same could occur if a police officer comes to prison. An inmate convicted of committing a high-profile crime could also
be considered prone to attack by other inmates looking to become notorious on their own.
Inmates are also given an orientation manual that explains
basic Department operations. It outlines what they can expect
in prison and what is expected of them. The manual generally
advises inmates of prison rules and regulations, and the Department’s general expectation of inmate conduct, adherence to
rules and program participation.
Classification levels protect staff, inmates
Inmate evaluations at reception help to decide initial security
classification for each inmate. That is a major step in ensuring
the safety of each offender, as well as staff, the general public
and the inmate population as a whole. The Department looks at
a number of factors in making this determination, such as the
length of the inmate’s sentence, the inmate’s prior criminal record, prior incidents of escape or absconding and the nature of
the underlying offense.
In general, New York state prisons are classified as maximum-, medium- or minimum-security. The classification is
based upon the physical layout and characteristics of each
prison, plus the mission assigned to it.
On Jan. 18, 2006, the 63,028 inmates under custody included
23,812 inmates housed in all areas of maximum-security prisons, 34,893 on the grounds of medium-security prisons and
4,323 within minimum-security prisons.

Page 7

Clarifying sentences ....
Continued from page 6

New York adopted determinate sentencing in 1995
under changes proposed by Governor Pataki. His goal
was to lengthen jail terms for violent offenders, deny
them discretionary parole and impose periods of
post-release supervision. His goal was to restore “truth in
sentencing” by using determinate sentencing to replace
the complicated and confusing indeterminate sentencing
structure.
Determinate sentencing requires judges to set a specific term of incarceration, from which inmates can earn
a one-seventh reduction through good behavior. Such a
sentence tells offenders, crime victims or their survivors
the truth about the minimum sentence an offender must
serve. A person receiving a seven-year determinate sentence, for example, is not eligible for release until after
serving a full six years, or 85 percent of the sentence imposed. Inmates who choose to misbehave or fail to participate in assigned programs will remain in prison for
the full sentence.
Having the option of earning a reduced sentence provides inmates with substantial reason to behave and participate positively in assigned programs. Thus, the option of “good time” is as much a safety issue for employees as it is a privilege to be earned by deserving inmates.
By contrast, the indeterminate sentencing structure is
far more complicated.
Indeterminate sentences include a minimum period of
incarceration (after which an inmate is eligible for discretionary parole) and a maximum sentence (upon which
the law requires release). Exclusive of offenders sentenced to life terms, the minimum indeterminate sentence is usually one-third or one-half the maximum sentence, based upon the offender’s prior criminal record.
Sentences such as 2-6 years or 5-10 years are therefore
common.
Indeterminate sentences are also complicated by what
are known as conditional release dates. Under the law,
inmates who have not lost good time may be released at
their conditional release date – two-thirds of their maximum-sentences – without the approval of this Department or the Board of Parole.
Thus, when an offender receives an indeterminate
sentence, no one knows if the offender is going to be released by vote of the parole board after serving only the
minimum sentence, at the conditional release date of
two-thirds of the maximum sentence, or upon completion of the full maximum sentence.
The indeterminate sentencing law is even different for
an inmate serving a sentence with a maximum of life. No

Continued on page 9

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

Maximum-security Attica and its signature walls and towers are shown in the foreground. Inmate movement occurs inside of cell blocks,
other buildings and the above-ground tunnels forming a “plus” sign in the yard. Cluster of buildings immediately behind Attica is Wyoming, a 740-bed medium-security prison. At top of photo is the 740-bed later addition that doubled Wyoming’s population. Wyoming is
surrounded by fences, razor wire, electronic monitors and surveillance video cameras. There, inmates move across open ground, often
unescorted. They are housed in military-style barracks.

Maximum-security prisons normally house general confinement inmates in single-occupancy cells. Each cell has sanitary facilities enabling the prison to be locked down at night to
virtually eliminate any need for inmate-to-inmate or inmate-to-staff contact. Maximum-security prisons have secure
perimeters such as walls or multiple wire fences topped and
April 2006

banked with layers of razor ribbon, plus multiple electronic
monitoring systems and video recording cameras. Security perimeters are augmented by armed guard posts.
Within the prison, inmates move in groups supervised by
Correction Officers through enclosed tunnels that connect such
areas as housing units, program areas and mess halls. Gates
Page 8

Prison Safety in New York

control those tunnels so that virtually any area can be closed off
in the event of an incident. Most maximum-security prisons
also have the built-in capability to fire chemical agents into
congregate areas such as the mess hall and outdoor recreation
yard. Each of these components are designed to provide maximum safety for staff as well as inmates from potential violence
by inmates.
Inmates housed in maximum-security include those serving
the longest sentences, making them the most likely to want to
escape. A number of them are serving so many years that good
behavior and a potential sentence reduction are not incentives
for them to follow prison rules. They also include offenders
who have committed serious misbehavior in lower-security
prisons, plus those who are considered escape risks for their
conduct in state or other correctional facilities.
Medium-security prisons have secure perimeters consisting of two fencing systems banked and topped with razor wire
as well as intrusion and other alarm systems. Inmates are generally housed in multiple-occupancy housing units, similar to college dormitories or military-style barracks. They exit their
housing units, sometimes under supervision and sometimes
not, and walk across open prison grounds to program areas, the
mess hall and other destinations.
The population of medium-security prisons is split almost in
half, with 50.6 percent convicted of nonviolent felonies.
Inmates are eligible for medium-security placement when
they are within six years of release. However, misbehavior,
poor program participation, crime of commitment and other

Clarifying sentences …
Continued from page 7

conditional release date (two-thirds of the maximum) can
be computed on a life sentence. So on a 25 years to life sentence, for example, the offender must serve all 25 years of
the minimum. After that, release will only occur by an affirmative vote by the parole board. No one can predict when –
or even if – that will occur.
It is therefore no surprise that the complexity of indeterminate sentencing confuses and angers the public.
It reacted angrily, for example, when Joel Steinberg was
released from prison in 2004. The public was outraged that
he had served “only” 16-2/3 years of what it thought was a
25-year sentence for battering and finally murdering his
six-year-old daughter in 1987.
In 1988, a judge gave Steinberg an indeterminate sentence of 8-1/3 to 25 years, then the harshest sentence possible for his crime. Many headline writers, at that time and
since, fell victim to the complexities of indeterminate sentencing by writing “Steinberg gets 25 years.”
In reality, the sentence that Steinberg received meant he
would become eligible for parole in 1996 after completing
his minimum sentence of 8-1/3 years. But instead of releasPage 9

factors can bar inmates from medium-security placement at the
Commissioner’s discretion. In fact, many inmates convicted of
violent felonies serve their entire sentences in maximum-security prisons.
Minimum-security prisons generally do not have a secure
perimeter. They consist of the same dormitory- and barracks-style housing found in medium-security prisons. Minimum-security facilities are designated as work release facilities, outdoor work camps or Shock Incarceration facilities.
Inmates are barred from minimum-security placement if
they have been convicted of arson or a sex offense, have a history of escape or leading a riot, have outstanding warrants or orders of protection against them, their alien status is unclear or
they are Mariel Cubans, or have a history of violence against
authority or a pattern of impulsive violence. Inmates must be
within two years of release to enter a camp or work release facility, or within three years of release to enter Shock Incarceration.
In addition to maximum-, medium- and minimum-security
general confinement housing, the Department also operates select, specialized sub-units within certain facilities. These are
designed to house and meet the needs of segments of the inmate
population whose background and characteristics raise at least
initial concerns about the inmate’s ability to be properly and
safely housed in a general confinement setting.
Inmates can remain in the following units as long as they are
considered victim-prone and do not themselves become a threat
to other inmates housed therein:

ing him, the parole board exercised its discretion by voting
to deny him release in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004.
Then, despite the wishes of the Department and the parole board, the indeterminate sentencing law required his
release on his conditional release date because he had not
lost any good time.
By law, that occurs upon completion of two-thirds of the
maximum sentence. For Steinberg, that came in 2004 when
he completed 16-2/3 years of his 25-year maximum sentence.
Had Governor Pataki’s 1995 determinate sentencing
laws been in effect when Steinberg committed his crime in
1987, he would still be behind bars today.
Had he received the same 25-year maximum as a determinate sentence in 1988, Steinberg would have been required to serve more than 21 years before becoming eligible
for a one-seventh reduction in his sentence.
That means he would not have become eligible for release until 2009. That’s 13 years after he first became eligible for release in 1996 under indeterminate sentencing.
As of mid-February, 22,054 inmates were serving determinate sentences while 40,625 were serving indeterminate
sentences. q

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

• Clinton Correctional
Facility operates the
258-bed Assessment
and Program Preparation Unit (APPU)
housing offenders who
might be considered
victim-prone
in
prison. Half the inmates housed here are
sex offenders. Others
include former judges,
police officers, informants and transsexuals. Among other
things, this discrete
unit affords selected
inmates an ample opportunity to adjust to
prison life in a controlled but not unduly
restrictive environment. The ultimate
goal is to transition
these offenders into
general confinement
placement.

• Approximately 900 beds are
designated for inmates in need
of all types of mental health
treatment and specialized services. Because of these disabilities, they cannot function
within the general population.
These units offer different
types and levels of care to meet
inmate mental health needs. As
with mental health patients on
the outside, the goal is to mainstream these individuals back
into the general population.
• Clinton also houses the
216-bed Merle Cooper Program, a therapeutic community
to help inmates deal with issues
regarding their criminal behavior.
• Eastern has a 31-bed unit dedicated to the care of the
sensorially disabled. In addition, while there are no set bed
limits or dedicated units such
as Eastern’s, the needs of
sensorially disabled inmates
can also be met in specialized
programs at Albion, Arthur
Kill’s drug treatment program,
Bedford Hills, Five Points,
Lakeview’s Shock Incarceration program, Sullivan, Taconic, Wende, Woodbourne and

• Approximately 340 inmates are in voluntary
protective custody at
any given time while
another 160 are in involuntary protective
This is a cell in an older maximum-security prison.
custody. Most are held
in one of the 14 designated protective custody units:
Wyoming.
Attica (36 beds), Auburn (38), Clinton (80), Collins
• Special Needs Units to meet the needs of mentally re(110), Coxsackie (42), Downstate (24), Elmira (59),
tarded/developmentally disabled inmates are located
Five Points (26), Great Meadow (34), Green Haven
at Arthur Kill (50 beds), Sullivan (64) and Wende (52).
(42), Mid-State (32), Oneida (43), Sing Sing (30) and
Wende (26). In addition, facilities can house protective
The separation of victim-prone inmates from the general
custody inmates in Special Housing Units or in other
population is a major step in protecting them from violence. It is
isolated areas.
also a crucial part of maintaining good order within a prison. q

This is a generic medium-security barracks where inmates are housed in open cubicles.
April 2006

Page 10

Prison Safety in New York

IV. Constantly improving, inmate health care meets standards
he Department recognizes its responsibility to provide inmates
with adequate health care. It is the constitutional and humane thing to do.
It is also the smart thing to do. The fact
inmates know quality care is available
goes beyond health concerns to help reduce prison tensions and anxieties that
would rise if such care was not accessible
to all inmates.

T

It is also the smart thing to do since
most inmates will someday be released
from prison. It makes sound public health
care sense to address inmate medical concerns during their incarceration.
The delivery of prison medical care
starts with the one million visits inmates
make each year to sick call.
Most penologists agree that, as a group,
inmates fell below community averages
in seeking appropriate medical treatment
on the outside. People incarcerated tend
not to have had medical insurance and
tend to come from groups, such as substance abusers, who are discriminated
against when they do seek medical care.
Prison health care provides inmates with quality in-house and community care.
That means they often bring advanced
on care which is provided to the QI committees.
and complex medical needs with them into prison. New York’s
Since 1995, hospital bed days per year have been reduced by
record shows improved medical care has led to steep declines
51
percent, from 37,500 to 18,500. Over the same period, conamong inmates in HIV/AIDS related deaths and the incidence
sultations
with specialists have increased 327 percent, from
of tuberculosis, plus dramatic increases in resources devoted to
30,000
to
128,000.
inmates in need of medical and mental health services.
Mental health services are provided by the state Office of
The Department has reorganized the delivery of inmate
Mental
Health (OMH). The Department has provided an
health care since 1995 into a system-wide approach to improve
ever-increasing
spectrum of service settings for the delivery of
availability and efficiency. Inmates are moved frequently
OMH
services,
including treatment in the general population
among prisons for security, program and other reasons. That
and
for
crisis
care.
Treatment of inmates in Special Housing
makes it essential that all necessary health care is available
Units
is
enhanced
with the addition of special Behavioral
throughout the state and that care is uniform and consistent.
Health Units at the Sullivan and Great Meadow correctional faPrimary health care is provided by state employees utilizing
cilities.
primary care treatment guidelines for many common health
Inmates with mental illness who have difficulty functioning
problems. A statewide network of approximately 1,000 comin general population can be housed in special units such as inmunity-based specialists provides specialty consultations.
termediate care programs. Discharge planning for those with
Telemedicine equipment in more than 50 prisons is used to conserious mental illness has been enhanced through a special unit
duct approximately 5,000 consultations each year.
at Sing Sing.
The Department ensures that inmate/patients receive health
Spending doubles on inmate medical care
care that is comparable to that provided in the community. It
The inmate population totaled 66,750 inmates when Goverdoes so through contracts with a licensed utilization review pronor
Pataki took office in 1995. It rose to 71,472 at the end of
vider which reviews requests for consultations and hospitaliza1999,
before declining 11 percent to 62,732 inmates at the end
tion against the same criteria used in the community. Internally,
of
2005.
the Department uses a Quality Improvement (QI) process with
each facility as well as in central office in Albany. Senior utiliMeanwhile, inmate medical care data for Fiscal 1996 versus
zation review nurses and infection control nurses collect data
Fiscal 2006 show that:
Page 11

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

• Total inmate medical care appropriations have increased 103 percent, from $149 million in Fiscal 1996
to $303 million in Fiscal 2006.
• $254 million has been spent to build or renovate prison
medical facilities.
• Inmate HIV/AIDS-related deaths have declined by 93
percent, from 258 in 1995 to 17 in 2005, due in part to
the fact that:
• More than 15,000 inmates are tested voluntarily each
year for HIV status. Earlier detection can make treatment more effective, thereby increasing longevity.
• In a sample of 4,000 incoming inmates in 2003, the
HIV seropositivity rate among males was 4.8 percent,
a 75 percent drop from the 18 percent found in the first
sample conducted in 1988. For women, the rate
dropped from 19 percent to 11.4 percent, a decline of
42 percent. That results in an overall inmate infection
rate of 5.1 percent in 2003, versus 17.1 percent in 1988.
• There has been an 83 percent decrease in the rate per
100,000 inmates of active TB cases diagnosed in
DOCS, with only nine cases last year versus 54 per
100,000 in 1996.
• Based upon a state Department of Health blinded
seropositivity study of 3,936 incoming inmates in
2003, it is estimated that 13.3 percent of males and 24
percent of females have evidence of Hepatitis C infection. Based upon the current population, that projects a
pool of 9,500-10,000 infected inmates. The only previous study was conducted of 4,022 incoming inmates
during 2000-01. That found an infection rate of 13.6
percent among males and 23.1 percent among females.
• 1,358 inmates have started treatment for Hepatitis C
since medication became available. 409 inmates
started treatment in 2005. Treatment is based upon
regularly updated clinical care guidelines that are
based upon recommendations from the Federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
• Inmates with chronic Hepatitis C, for whom treatment
is not indicated under care guidelines based upon recommendations from the CDC and NIH, are monitored
regularly. Those with normal liver function are tested
every 6-12 months. Those with elevated liver functions are monitored every 8-12 weeks.
• In 2001, 42 inmate deaths resulted from liver disease,
including 19 suffering from Hepatitis C. In 2004, the
latest year for which complete data are available, there
were 24 inmate deaths from liver disease, 18 of whom
had Hepatitis C.
• Completion of treatment for Hepatitis C is important.
In the past, inmates were required to complete treatment while they were in prison because there was no
public funding of treatment in the community and one
of the drugs is given by injection.
April 2006

• A new program, The Hepatitis C Continuity Program,
has been developed that allows for the completion of
treatment and continuity of medical care when the inmate is released to the community. Originally, this
program only applied to inmates released to the New
York City area, but has recently been expanded to include the rest of New York state.
• The Department is also purchasing more than 600 Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to augment
the 96 now in use system-wide. This means additional
facility staff will need to be trained in their operation
and use.
Mental health spending increases 300 percent
Highlights of inmate mental health care data in Fiscal 1996
versus Fiscal 2006 show:
• A 300 percent increase in the Department’s mental
health and psychotropic drugs appropriations, from
$5.6 million to $22.5 million.
• A 58 percent increase in the mental health caseload
(from 4,893 to 7,722.) That means about 12 percent of
inmates have been diagnosed as in need of such services, compared to a national average of 15 percent of
all prison inmates.
• A 400 percent increase, from 440 cases annually to
2,200 last year, in discharge plans prepared by the Department and OMH that are coordinated with local
mental health care providers for inmates leaving the
prison mental health caseload.
• A 78 percent increase in OMH’s staff assigned to prisons (from 231 to 412.)
• A 56 percent increase in Department mental health
staff (from 79 to 123.)
• A 47 percent increase in Department beds held for critical mental health care (from 616 to 904), in addition to
200 beds at OMH’s secure Central New York
Psychiatric Center.
• 30 Intermediate Care Program beds were added at
Great Meadow Correctional Facility in 2005.
• Behavioral Health Units opened in 2005 at Great
Meadow with 38 beds and at Sullivan Correctional Facility with 64 beds.
• The Department’s first OMH satellite unit in a medium-security prison housing female offenders opened
at Albion Correctional Facility in 2005.
• Nearly 123,000 Departmental employees have been
trained on mental health topics since such training began in 1995. During 2005, 21,544 received the
one-hour inmate suicide prevention program and 678
received the eight-hour program.
• New York remains the only state in the nation where
the Chicago-based Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) has accredited every prison OMH unit. q
Page 12

Prison Safety in New York

V. Promoting good behavior serves staff, inmates alike
nmates may have had co-defendants on the street. They
may have been members of street gangs. They may well
have relied upon those cohorts for support on the streets, and
then, once arrested, blamed them for their criminal behavior.
Such finger pointing ends when inmates come to prison.
Each inmate does time alone. What happens with each in prison
is based solely upon their individual actions. There is no latitude given to blame others for their own decisions, no responsibility for their actions to be laid at the feet of others. Inmates
soon learn they alone are solely responsible for the decisions
they make about
their prison conduct. It is one of
their first steps in
preparing to return
to society while
augmenting prison
safety.

I

staff or other non-inmates, a sex offense, a weapons charge, a
drug charge, or an unhygienic act such as throwing feces or
urine at staff. Inmates are also deemed ineligible if they receive
disciplinary sanctions of 60 days or more, or a punishment resulting in a recommended loss of good time.
In addition to the disciplinary requirements, inmates must
participate positively in assigned programs. They must also
meet one of the following program standards: obtain a GED,
complete a substance abuse treatment program, earn a vocational certificate after six months of programming, or complete
400 hours of community service.

As of Dec. 31,
2005, the merit time
program generated
21,269 inmate releases prior to their
court-set parole eligibility date. The
The Department
Department also calknows that tangible
culates that the derewards for indimand for prison
vidual good behavspace is 1,767 beds
ior can serve as an
less than it would
enormous incentive for inmates in Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment programs, like this one at have been had merit
general to obey the Marcy, offer group meetings and personal intercommunication, positive exchanges that time not been enacted. These 21,269
rules and to refrain benefit individual inmates and prison safety alike.
inmates were refrom engaging in
leased
an
average
of
6.16
months
prior
to
their
court-set parole
misbehavior.
eligibility dates. Using an average annual incarceration cost of
When behavior can affect the length of time an inmate re$29,000 per inmate, the operational savings for the Department
mains incarcerated, then individual incentives become very
as of the end of last year totaled approximately $314 million.
powerful and meaningful.
Hence, not only has this program fostered a much safer corThere are a host of prison programs that make good behavior
rectional environment, it has also resulted in significant monemore than just its own reward: they not only prepare inmates for
tary savings to taxpayers. (A copy of Department Directive
release, but promote prison safety and security as well.
4790, entitled “Merit Time,” appears as Attachment B.)
Meriting early release
Good time off the ‘max’
Recognizing the need for such incentives as a means to mainInmates can also earn time off the number of years set as their
tain order and protect staff as well as inmates, Governor Pataki
maximum sentences. Since inmates serving sentences of life do
proposed a merit time law in 1997 that the Legislature enacted
not have a fixed number of years in their maximum sentences,
later that year.
these 12,211 inmates are not eligible for this program.
It allows inmates whose underlying crimes are nonviolent to
The amount of good time off the max that an inmate can earn
reduce their minimum sentences through good behavior and
depends upon whether an inmate’s term is controlled by an inpositive program participation. The reduction can be as much
determinate or a determinate sentence. In the case of indetermias one-third off an indeterminate sentence and one-seventh off a
nate sentences, good time equal to one-third of the maximum
determinate sentence. Conversely, inmates who commit serisentence is allowed. Inmates serving determinate sentences
ous disciplinary infractions or fail to participate positively in
can earn a reduction of up to one-seventh.
programs are ineligible for merit time.
These sentence reductions may be granted for good behavior
The Department promulgated regulations telling inmates exand positive performance of assigned duties or for progress and
actly which rule infractions and disciplinary penalties are seriachievement in an assigned treatment program. Conversely,
ous enough to warrant disqualification for merit time. For exthey may be withheld, forfeited or reduced for bad behavior, viample, inmates are disqualified from receiving merit time fololations of institutional rules or failure to perform properly in
lowing a guilty finding for assault on another inmate, assault on
the duties or program assigned.

Page 13

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

Earning Eligibility for release
During the reception process, each inmate learned what programs were necessary for the inmate to prepare for eventual release. The Department sought an incentive to promote improved inmate behavior while they worked to complete those
program options. In 1987, the state created the Earned Eligibility Program (EEP), which Governor Pataki expanded upon in
2003.
Under EEP, eligible inmates – those serving minimum sentences of eight years or less
– are urged to work toward
completion of appropriate
programs and to follow
prison rules. If they do so,
they receive certificates of
earned eligibility.
EEP does not reduce the
length of a sentence, as do
merit time off the minimum sentence and good
time off the maximum sentence. Instead, possession
of an EEP certificate significantly increases the
likelihood of a favorable
parole board decision. Inmates with an EEP certificate can only be denied parole release if it can be affirmatively shown that
they cannot be expected to
live within the law if released.

For inmates, that is a strong incentive to behave and involve
themselves in programs. For the prison system, that means
thousands of inmates with reasons to behave and not jeopardize
the safety of staff or other inmates. For the public, the fact that
one-third of EEP eligible inmates are being denied certificates
shows the Department is not rubber-stamping early release applications.
Geography encourages good behavior
A record of good behavior and program involvement is important for other reasons as
well. One reason can be seen
by looking at a map showing
the location of the state’s correctional facilities. (A copy
of the Department’s map locating correctional facilities
appears as Attachment C.)
While more than 90 percent of state prison beds are
located north of New York
City, the five boroughs are
home to 55 percent of inmates. Eleven percent come
from its immediate suburban
counties and 34 percent from
the rest of upstate New York.
In general, inmates prefer
to be confined in those facilities that are closest to their
homes to facilitate visits
from loved ones.

As another way of providing inmates with an incentive
Nearly 215,000 into behave, the Department
mates, or 68 percent of the
has instituted a “closer to
316,705 inmates eligible
home” or “area of preferfor EEP since 1987, were
ence” transfer policy. The
awarded certificates
general premise of this polthrough September 2005,
icy is that an inmate spends
the latest date for which
some specified period of
complete data are avail- Religious programming provides inmates with a positive outlet. Here, Ro- time in an initial general conable. The actual release man Catholic Cardinal Edward Egan celebrates Mass at Arthur Kill.
finement facility. Inmates
rate for those nearly
are eligible to transfer to a fa215,000 inmates earning EEP certificates is 66 percent. By
cility closer to home provided that they maintain positive discicomparison, the release rate was only 36 percent among those
plinary and program records.
eligible for EEP who did not receive such certificates, either
Hence, this serves as a strong incentive for inmates to follow
due to misbehavior or failure to participate in program assignthe
rules.
ments.
Family Reunion necessitates good behavior
Combining EEP-eligibles issued certificates with those who
A positive record of behavior is also important for an inweren’t, the overall release rate is 57 percent among all inmates
mate’s eligibility to participate in the Department’s Family Reeligible for such certificates.
union Program. The goal of this program is to provide selected
Prior to EEP, the overall rate of release for these same inlegally-married inmates and their family members the opportumates was 50 percent. Therefore, it can reasonably be said that
nity to be together for 36-44 hours on prison grounds.
EEP has contributed to nearly 22,000 more releases at first paSuch extended visits take place in mobile home-like units
role eligibility (57 percent) than would have otherwise been exwith limited access within the perimeters of selected maxipected to occur without it (50 percent).
mum-security and certain large, medium-security facilities. As
April 2006

Page 14

Prison Safety in New York

a precondition for participation, an inmate
must be participating in assigned programs
and cannot have had any recent disciplinary
problems. Since this program affords inmates
the opportunity to share private moments
with family members in a secure setting, this
also serves as an enormous incentive to behave.
Last year, nearly 8,300 inmates had visits
with 6,680 legally-married spouses, 3,822
children, 1,761 parents, 788 siblings and 802
other relatives in program sites at Attica, Auburn, Bedford Hills, Clinton, Collins, Downstate, Eastern, Elmira, Fishkill, Great
Meadow, Green Haven, Shawangunk, Sing
Sing, Southport, Sullivan, Wallkill, Wende
and Woodbourne. At Downstate and
Southport, the only inmates who can participate in the program are cadre. These are the
inmates assigned to such facility operation
tasks as the mess hall, laundry, grounds maintenance and cleaning details.
Honor housing has its rewards
A prerequisite for admittance into any
honor housing unit is a positive disciplinary
record. Ten maximum-security prisons have Disciplinary hearings like this one decide if good time will be lost for misbehavior.
Four months prior to an inmate’s conditional release date, a
nearly 1,500 cells in honor blocks while there are almost 1,600
prison Time Allowance Committee convenes to consider the
beds in honor housing at 18 medium-security prisons.
inmate’s institutional record. It will determine if some or all of
Inmates whose behavior allows for honor housing placement
the inmate’s permissible good time should be granted or withreceive additional benefits that can include, depending upon faheld.
cility, access to late-night recreation, additional television
Of the 10,400 inmates appearing before Time Allowance
viewing hours, more liberal hours to use collect call-only
Committees
in 2005, failure to program was a factor contributphones, additional commissary buys, expanded on-unit cooking
to
the
loss
of good time for 1,641 of them, or 16 percent. The
ing privileges, use of clothing washer and dryer machines, addiDepartment
has
made itself clear to inmates: for the safety of
tional yard privileges and additional hours of shower operastaff
and
inmates,
as well as to prepare inmates for release, they
tions.
will be penalized if they refuse to participate in programs.
Honor housing is also separate from the general population
For inmates who have exhibited bad behavior during the iniwhere conduct is not always so honorable. In maxitial
stages of their sentences, but thereafter maintained a posimum-security prisons, honor housing may offer larger cells
tive
record, the Time Allowance Committee may choose to rethan those in general population.
store
good time despite the earlier infractions.
Time tolls for misbehavior
Departmental inmate programs – be they academic, vocaThe theory behind that restoration is simple. If inmates think
tional, treatment or work assignments – are designed to prepare
they cannot make up for misbehavior during the early days of
inmates for eventual release. In addition, they keep inmates
their incarceration, there is no incentive for them to behave for
positively involved as a means to reduce the number of prison
the rest of their incarceration. They then become threats to instiincidents and overall violence. As a result, it is vital that intutional safety and security.
mates remain positively involved in these programs.
Therefore, if an inmate’s subsequent behavior and program

But there are always those inmates who do not heed that message and choose to refuse programs or break prison rules. When
an inmate is found guilty of a serious disciplinary infraction,
one of the penalties that may be imposed by the hearing officer
is a recommended loss of good time for a specified period of
time.

participation outweigh early misbehavior, the Time Allowance
Committee can vote to restore some or all lost good time.

That loss of good time will catch up with inmates as they near
their release dates.

That’s the second half of the equation in maintaining prison
security and safety for staff and inmates alike. q

Page 15

Just as the Department has an array of programs designed to
foster good behavior, it equally needs a format to fairly punish
inmates who fail to program properly or refuse to follow prison
rules.

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

VI. Sanctions for inmate misbehavior protect other inmates, staff
he array of inmate rewards and benefits for positive behavior represents one-half of the equation employed by
correctional administrators to maintain a safe correctional
environment. Equally important are the sanctions and penalties that may be imposed upon inmates who choose to misbehave.
Inmate violence is more likely to be directed at other inmates
than at prison staff. In 2005, for exa m p l e , t h e r e w e r e 5 1 7 i nmate-on-staff assaults, but 686 inmate-on-inmate assaults. By comp a r i s o n , t h e r e w e r e 9 6 2 i nmate-on-staff assaults in 1995 when
Governor Pataki took office, compared to 1,741 inmate-on-inmate
assaults that year.

T

• There is no “one size fits all.” Disciplinary options
must be appropriately varied to fit such factors as the
particular circumstances involved, the overall behavior history of the inmate and the prevailing atmosphere
of the facility. An inmate’s misbehavior, for example,
could draw a more severe punishment if it occurs while
a facility is undergoing many incidents and disruptions
than if the same offense
occurred during a time of
institutional quiet.
• Punishments must be
commensurate with the
offense. Disciplinary action is taken in such measure and degree as is necessary to regulate an individual inmate’s behavior
and to achieve compliance by the entire inmate
population with required
standards of behavior.

The inmate population dropped
from 68,489 in December 1995 to
62,732 in December of last year.
T h a t m e a n s t h e r a t e o f i nmate-on-staff assaults fell from 14
incidents per 1,000 inmates in 1995
to eight last year. Similarly, the rate
of inmate-on-inmate assaults fell
from 26 incidents per 1,000 inmates
in 1995 to 11 last year.

• Sanctions must be fair.
Disciplinary action must
be administered in a completely fair, impersonal
and impartial manner and
must be consistent.

Thus a disciplinary system designed to prevent assaults and other
disruptive behavior, and to punish it
when it occurs, is more beneficial to
inmates than to staff since the former is more often victimized by inmates than the latter.
But in New York, even one
prison assault is considered too
many. The Department requires an
organized system to evaluate inmate misbehavior and to impose
This is a purpose-built, double-occupancy SHU cell with
fair and consistent punishment.

• As justice should be swift
and sure, so, too, should
inmate discipline. Disciplinary measures rely
upon certainty and
promptness for their effect on the general population, more so than their
severity which affects
only the individual inmate.

• Disciplinary action must
never be arbitrary or capricious or administered
for the purpose of retaliation or revenge.
Three-tiered inmate disciplinary system
The Department uses a three-tiered disciplinary system in
order to ensure punishments are commensurate with misbehavior. In the most general terms, there is no charge of misconduct
that “always” or “automatically” falls into any tier category. In
each case, the charge will reflect the facts of the individual incident and the threat posed against the orderly operation of the
prison.

the top bed removed. Door at left rear leads to exercise
Filling that role is the three-tiered yard. Door to right accesses shower. Staff control both
disciplinary system. When applied doors. Desk and toilet areas are at right out of photo.

reasonably and with fairness and
equanimity, the disciplinary system assists in the protection of
the health, safety and security of all persons within a correctional facility.

By helping to maintain institutional order, the disciplinary
system allows rehabilitative programs to operate in a secure setting. The more programs can operate at a normal level, the more
inmates are occupied in positive ways that improve security.
Thus, security augments programs just as programs improve
security.
Some of the basic precepts of the disciplinary system include:
April 2006

Tossing a paper cup at staff, for example, will not bring the
same level of assault charge as that filed against an inmate for
physically attacking an employee. But even the tossing of the
Page 16

Prison Safety in New York

paper cup could bring varying charges: it could be viewed differently if it occurred in a one-on-one situation versus in front
of a group of inmates with the intention of provoking the group
to attack the employee.
The Department’s disciplinary system begins with Tier I,
dealing with the most minor of infractions. The disciplinary
hearing is conducted by a Sergeant. The maximum penalty is a
13-day loss of privileges.

Inmates in disciplinary confinement
Keeplock

4,000
3,500

Next are Tier IIs for more serious offenses. Hearings are conducted by a Lieutenant, formal charges are placed and witnesses can be called. The most severe penalties imposed are 30
days in keeplock and/or loss of privileges.

3,000

Generally speaking, maximum-security keeplock sentences
are served in general confinement cells. Inmates are locked in
around-the-clock except for an hour’s exercise each day or unless they have visitors or require medical care. Keeplock inmates are afforded more property and privileges than those
housed in Special Housing Units (SHUs) discussed below. In
lower-security prisons, where inmates are housed in barracks
and dormitories, keeplock sentences can be served in an SHU
under its rules.

1,500

Tier IIIs are for the most serious offenses, such as assaults on
staff or other inmates. These hearings are typically convened by
Captains or above and involve the full due process allowed under the disciplinary system. Penalties can include SHU confinement, extended loss of privileges and the loss of good time.
SHU confinement is the most restrictive imposed in prison.
It is a group of cells separated from the general population. Inmates in SHU are confined to their cells for 24 hours per day but
are offered showers and one hour of daily outdoor exercise.
SHU inmates may also be allowed out of their cells for medical
and legal visits, plus one non-legal visit each week. The items
of property for an inmate in SHU are severely limited.
While in SHU, inmates receive extensive counseling services and are visited regularly by mental and medical health
services staff, chaplains and the security supervisors required to
make daily rounds on the unit. Inmates are also offered various
cell-study courses and some receive GED programs. In addition, inmates can possess a combined total of five books, magazines or newspapers from the general library plus a total of 15
volumes from the law library.
Since 58 percent of disciplinary confinement beds are now in
purpose-built, double-occupancy cells, such housing is not the
“solitary confinement” so popular in prison movies of the past
century. The new double-occupancy cells also have built-in
showers controlled by staff. They also have a door in the back
wall of the cell, controlled by staff, that opens into an enclosed
outside exercise area. (See photo on page 16.)
Having in-cell access to showers outdoor exercise eliminates two of the main points of contact between staff and inmates that lead to confrontations in disciplinary housing units.
SHUs also provide a basic protection not unlike that sought
by the general public. The public wants to be protected by the
incarceration of dangerous, violent, and predatory felons. Simi-

Special Housing Unit

2,500
2,000

1,000
Jul96

Jul97

Jul98

Jul99

Jul00

Jul01

Jul02

Jul03

Jul04

Jul05

SHU expansion protects staff, inmates
Special Housing Unit (SHU) capacity was severely
lacking when Governor Pataki took office in 1995.
That was in large part due to the massive infusion of
nonviolent drug offenders into the prison system in the
1980s and early 1990s. Thousands of medium-security
beds in military-style barracks were added during that
period through the construction of two dozen new prisons to house basically nonviolent drug offenders.
Separate SHUs with individual cells were constructed
at those prisons to accommodate the expected numbers
of inmates requiring separation for misbehavior. The
size of the SHUs was projected and the units built based
upon the initial capacity of those new prisons. But an increasing inmate population would require more than
6,000 of those beds in prison barracks to be double-bunked. At some prisons, 500 bed annexes were also
added. No new SHU cells were built at any of these prisons.
As a result, the Department had only 2,266 SHU beds
as the prison population reached 69,108 inmates in December of 1997. But there were 5,271 inmates in disciplinary confinement.
As medium-security SHUs filled with misbehaving
inmates, their overflow spilled into the SHUs in maximum-security prisons. When they became full, maximum-security prisons had to devote hundreds of general
confinement cells as extended SHU or keeplock space.
Attica was representative of other maximum-security
prisons. In December 1997, fully 20 percent of its general confinement cells had been given over to housing inmates serving disciplinary confinement.
That gridlock in maximum-security general confinement caused the backup of thousands of “state readies”

Continued on page 19

Page 17

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

in county jails. The Department was unable to take custody of
significant numbers of offenders who required maximum-security confinement.
It was not uncommon during that period for some inmates to
be released early from SHUs for no reason other than to make
room for newly-committed SHU inmates. That sent a message
to inmates that, despite their conduct, SHU time would be cut to
make room for other inmates. Besides sending the wrong message to inmates, the policy had an extremely negative impact on
employee morale.

yuga, Collins, Fishkill, Gouverneur, Greene,
Marcy, Mid-State and Orleans. A ninth was
constructed on the grounds of the minimum-security Lakeview Shock Incarceration
Correctional Facility.
• 1,500 beds in 750 double-occupancy cells at the
maximum-security Upstate Correctional Facility. Twelve hundred beds are designated as SHU
space. The remaining 300 beds are general confinement, housing cadre inmates.

When he took office, Governor Pataki moved immediately
• 1,500 beds in 750 double-occupancy cells at the
to implement his promise to lock up violent offenders for lonmaximum-security Five Points Correctional
ger sentences and to end their privilege of discretionary parole.
Facility. It is the opposite of Upstate. It has
With the enactment
1,400 beds for genof his determinate
eral confinement insentencing law, viomates in this fully
Special Housing Unit Sentences
lent felony offenders
programmed prison.
Average Sentence
would serve longer
Only 100 of its beds
Average Stay
sentences. But he
are designated for
275
knew that would reSHU use.
quire more maxi250
the
m a x i• At
mum-security beds.
mum-security
Governor Pataki
tied his sentencing
initiatives to the large s t s i n g l e m a x imum-security prison
construction project
in state history. It
consisted of 4,950
beds in 2,475 double-occupancy cells.
They included 3,100
beds in 1,550 double-occupancy cells
for disciplinary housing.

225

Days

200
175
150
125
100
1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005

That allowed thousands of inmates serving disciplinary
housing sentences in general confinement cells to be
“swapped” into the new SHUs. That relieved pressure on SHUs
in both maximum- and medium-security prisons. Attica, which
in December 1997 devoted 450 general confinement cells to
disciplinary housing, now has only 77 inmates in such confinement. For counties, it meant the state could accept custody of
the thousands of offenders backed up in their jails.
The new space sent word to inmates that the Department
now had the space necessary to lock up those who violated
prison rules. There would be no more “time cuts” for lack of
space.
Pataki completes record cell expansion
The Governor’s construction plan consisted of:
• Free-standing maximum-security SHUs of 200 beds in
100 double-occupancy cells, dubbed S-Blocks, on the
grounds of these eight medium-security facilities: Ca-

April 2006

Southport Correctional Facility, 150
b e d s i n 7 5 d o uble-occupancy cells
were added to house
inmate cadre. The
pre-existing 789 single-occupancy cells
are all designated for
SHU use.

With the opening of all the
new beds, the Department
had 5,366 beds designated for
disciplinary housing – 3,100 in new double-occupancy
cells (58 percent) and 2,266 in preexisting single-occupancy cells.
By December 2005, the number of inmates in disciplinary status stood at 4,680. That’s 11 percent fewer
than the 5,271 confined in December 1997, the year before the new SHU beds began coming on line.
That disproved the critics who had charged that the
Department would leave the 5,271 inmates where they
were and “drum up charges” to fill the new beds with
3,100 more inmates – bringing the total in disciplinary
confinement to more than 8,300 inmates.
Instead, the new beds had the effect forecast by the
Department: inmates got the message that sufficient disciplinary housing space is now available to immediately
lock up those who choose to break prison rules – without
granting unearned “time cuts” to other inmates just to
free up an SHU cell for new arrivals. q

Page 18

Prison Safety in New York
Continued from page 17

larly, the general inmate population wants those offenders who
continue to be disruptive, dangerous or violent behind bars to
be locked up. An inmate who is confined to an SHU – the proverbial “prison within a prison” – is not out assaulting inmates,
attacking staff or endangering prison operations.
That makes prison safer for staff and inmates alike.
Eight states use lock down more than New York
Analysis disproves the critics who allege that New York
leads the nation in locking inmates down around the clock.
Historically, the most reliable data on restricted inmate housing around the nation was contained in The Corrections Yearbook, published annually by the Criminal Justice Institute, Inc.
in Middletown, CT. Unfortunately, it ceased publication with
its 2002 edition that included data for January 1 of that year.
Though dated, it still offers the latest reliable national compilation of such data.
It reported New York had 5,025 inmates in near
round-the-clock lock down in disciplinary confinement, administrative segregation plus protective custody on that date.
That was 7.5 percent of the Department’s population. Elsewhere on that date:
• 9,136 inmates were locked down in those three categories in Texas, nearly twice the number in New York.
(California did not report figures for that date, but had
reported a comparable total of 8,775 on Jan. 1, 2001 for
the 2001 yearbook.)
• 7.6 percent of the prison population was locked down
in Colorado, 9.1 percent in Hawaii, 7.6 in Illinois, 8.5
in Missouri, 8 percent in South Dakota and 9.3 percent
in Tennessee.
Thus, the latest data show two states lock down greater numbers of inmates than New York and six others lock down higher
percentages of inmates than does New York.
Inmates earn their way in, out of SHU
Just as inmates know their individual misconduct earns them
placement in an SHU cell, they have learned that improved conduct can serve as the key out of it.
The Department recognizes it is important to retain incentives for inmates to behave while they are serving their prison
sentences – even while they are in the SHU.

mates in SHU;
• Providing line staff input into discretionary review decisions;
• Giving inmates a stake in maintaining a positive adjustment and attitude in SHU and providing a
time-reduction incentive for inmates serving long
SHU dispositions;
• Fewer misbehavior reports and hearings for inmates in
SHU;
• Less conflict between SHU staff and inmates, and
• Consistency in discretionary review procedures
throughout the state.
The new Standardized Discretionary Review Procedure required formation of a committee composed of a member of the
facility executive staff who serves as the chairperson, guidance
and counseling staff (usually an SHU counselor), and an SHU
security supervisor or designee. They meet on a monthly basis
to review the eligibility for discretionary reviews of inmates assigned to special housing. SHU staff has direct input into all discretionary review decisions. The committee makes recommendations to the superintendent who can accept, modify or reject
any such recommendations. (A copy of the Standardized Discretionary Review Procedure policy appears at Attachment E.)
Inmates who have an SHU sentence of 90 days or more and
who have satisfied a 30-day post-adjustment period are eligible
for review after serving one-half of their SHU time. If justified,
inmates can receive a reduction of up to one-half of their remaining time, or one-quarter of the original sentence.
The average disciplinary sentence was 238 days in 1998, the
year the Governor’s new SHU beds began coming on line. The
average time served on those sentences was 184 days. Most of
the 54-day reduction came in unearned forced time cuts due to
lack of space.
Last year, the average SHU sentence was 149 days – three
months shorter than the 1998 average.
In addition, inmate conduct in the SHU has improved to the
extent that those 149-day sentences last year resulted in an average time served of only 124 days as inmates earn early SHU release – with no time cuts just to make room for other inmates.
The Department believes this data show that:

On Oct. 1, 2003, in a broad-based effort to encourage positive adjustment and establish clear-cut behavioral goals for inmates assigned to SHU, the Department implemented a Standardized Discretionary Review Procedure (SDRP) at 37 facilities with SHUs. This new initiative was similar to the pilot Progressive Inmate Movement System (PIMS), already in effect at
the S-Blocks and certain other facilities. (A copy of the PIMS
procedure appears as Attachment D.)

• The certainty of facing SHU confinement for misbehavior contributes to generally improved inmate conduct, reflected in the imposition of shorter-term sentences.

PIMS allowed for modification of restrictions as inmates
demonstrated a positive adjustment to SHU confinement. For
this new SDRP initiative, the anticipated benefits included:

• The downward trend in the number and length of SHU
sentences becomes even more dramatic in light of the
fact that the percentage of inmates serving sentences
for violent offenses increased from 53 percent in 1998
to 57 percent last year.

• Establishing incentives for positive adjustment for inPage 19

• The SHU time cuts are directly related to improved inmate behavior generated by both the Progressive Inmate Movement System and the Standardized Discretionary Review Procedure.

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

Misbehavior can draw added sentence
Another important sanction for serious inmate misbehavior
is the prospect of facing outside prosecution on additional criminal charges. By law, the conviction of a prison inmate on a new
felony offense must lead to an additional sentence of imprisonment to be served consecutively. Hence, inmates clearly have a
strong interest in avoiding any new prosecutions.
Concerned about crimes committed by inmates, Governor
Pataki created the Inmate Criminal Prosecution Task Force in
1996. Through the end of 2005, 4,991 cases of inmate misconduct were referred for felony criminal prosecution. More than
2,500 led to convictions, nearly 2,200 of them for felonies. Minus open cases, that is a conviction rate of 56 percent.
Further, New York accounted for 119, or 14 percent, of the
840 inmate assaults prosecuted in prison systems nationwide in
2001, the latest year for which data is available from The Corrections Yearbook.
Staff injured protecting inmates
Many of these assaults and other crimes were inmate-on-inmate. Thus, their prosecution is designed to protect
inmates more so than staff. Some staff are victims of assaults
and other crimes committed by inmates. Staff are also injured
when trying to protect inmates from injury by other inmates.
Between 1995-2004, 9,148 staff injuries were sustained during inmate-on-staff assaults, when staff broke
up or defended inmates in
inmate-on-inmate attacks, during attempted
or actual inmate escapes,
while dousing fires set by
inmates or during other
prison incidents.
Of those injuries,
8,215 were reported as
minor, 928 as moderate
and five as serious. “Minor” is defined as those
requiring no treatment or
treatable in facility infirmaries, “moderate” as requiring out-patient treatment at an outside hospital, and “serious” as any
injury requiring hospitalization, or death.

life in jeopardy to prevent further injury or perhaps death” to the
inmate victim. The citation concluded, “This courageous and
unselfish act epitomizes the dedication and professionalism of
the Department’s uniformed staff.”
The inmate entered guilty pleas in Greene County to attempted assault and promoting prison contraband, drawing an
additional 3-1/2 to 7 years in prison. Administratively, the Department Tier III hearing conviction led to a loss of 48 months
of good time, four years in SHU plus loss of phone, commissary
and package privileges.
Correction Officer Dale G. DuBrey was awarded the Department’s second-highest honor, the Medal of Merit, for saving an
inmate from himself on Jan. 11, 1999.
Officer DuBrey observed flames and smoke coming from an
inmate’s cell at Clinton Correctional Facility. After Officer
DuBrey unlocked the cell, the inmate refused his orders to exit
it. Despite the effects of smoke, Officer DuBrey wrestled the inmate out of the cell. The fire was extinguished before it could
spread and endanger staff as well as inmates.
A Tier III hearing resulted in the inmate being convicted of
arson, self-harm, refusing a direct order and the loss/damage of
state property. He was given six months in keeplock, plus the
equivalent loss of recreation, package and commissary privileges. He was also required to pay $143.01 in restitution.
Liaisons with all district
attorney offices have been
established to engender cooperative working relationships in prosecution of these
cases. In addition, Department Directive 6910, entitled “Criminal Prosecution
of Inmates,” was promulgated to provide a coordinated approach to the criminal prosecution of inmates
who commit penal law violations. (A copy of that Directive appears as Attachment F.)

The Directive provides
that, with the objective of
maintaining a safe working
and living environment and
curtailing violence, it is the
Department’s policy to seek
One of those “modercriminal prosecution of inate” injuries led Governor
mates who commit felony
Pataki to present the Deviolations of any state or fedpartment’s highest award
eral penal code. Facility and
A gallery of cells at Sing Sing, the state’s second oldest prison.
in 2002 to a Coxsackie
Central Office staff are reCorrections Sergeant.
quired to cooperate fully with the state police, district attorneys,
The Medal of Honor citation noted that Sgt. Jeffery D. Haines
the Attorney General’s office, U.S. Attorneys and all other fedwas stabbed in the wrist while trying to stop an inmate’s attack
eral, state and local police or investigative officials who may be
on another inmate with an 11-inch homemade knife.
instrumental in bringing a felony case to successful prosecution
and conviction. q
The citation noted Sgt. Haines’ “fearless actions put his own
April 2006

Page 20

Prison Safety in New York

The myth of the New York ‘super-max’
Many outside critics persist in muddying the factual waters by claiming that New York operates Southport or Upstate correctional facilities, or both, as “super-max” prisons.
Those who make that claim demonstrate their lack of understanding of the “super-max” concept. It is designed to instill powerlessness in inmates through incapacitation, and to
eliminate any chance for them to affect their prison conditions. By contrast, New York’s disciplinary housing system
is designed to instill responsibility and urge inmates to take
positive control of their lives.
The differences are far more than semantic.
Across the nation, “super-maxes” have some basic commonalities that do not exist in any of the disciplinary housing
units located in 40 of New York’s 69 prisons:
• Any inmate can be placed in a
“super-max” solely because of crime of
commitment. That means prison conduct has nothing to do with placement. In
New York, an inmate’s under-custody
misconduct earns 99.9 percent of disciplinary confinement. (See exception under “Department monitors gangs, members” on
page 35.) In New York, it is crucial that inmates understand that their placement will, by and large, be
determined by their individual prison conduct. That
is a tool designed to promote good prison behavior.
• Inmates enter “super-maxes” with no idea of how
long they will be incarcerated there, meaning their
future conduct will have no impact on
their future placement. In New York, each
inmate is sent to disciplinary housing for
a specified period of time. That does more
than let inmates know their sentences. It
allows inmates, staff and outsiders to
weigh whether or not inmates are receiving fair and equitable punishment for
similar misconduct.
• “Super max” inmates generally cannot earn privileges or reduce confinement time through good behavior. In New York prisons, SHU inmates can earn
both additional privileges and confinement reductions. That’s because it is important to send the message that disciplinary sentences are imposed to improve behavior, not simply for the sake of punishment.
• Virtually every inmate in a “super-max” is housed in
a single-occupancy cell to increase isolation. In
New York, 58 percent of disciplinary housing unit
b e d s a r e l o c a t e d i n p u r p o s e - b u i l t , d o uble-occupancy cells. Many others serve disciplinary

Page 21

sentences keeplocked in their single-occupancy
cells on open general confinement galleries where
they can easily communicate with other inmates. Inmates in New York’s disciplinary housing also interact with a host of security, counseling, medical
and mental health staff on a regular basis.
Each of those differences between “super-maxes” and disciplinary housing units are institutionalized at every one of
New York’s 40 prisons with SHUs. Upstate and Southport
simply operate as large disciplinary housing units. But they
generally follow the same rules and regulations as those that
apply in 38 smaller disciplinary housing units in other maximum- and medium-security prisons around the state.
New York City mob leader John Gotti is probably the most
well-known example of a “super-max” inmate. On the day his life sentence was imposed in 1992, he was immediately flown to a
federal “super-max” prison because of his
crimes. He remained in that status with minimum privileges virtually until the day he died
of natural causes.
That can be contrasted with the Department’s treatment of David Berkowitz, one of New York’s
most high-profile serial killers. He terrorized New York City
in 1976-77 as the “Son of Sam,” shooting six people to death
and wounding seven others.
He was sentenced in 1978 on six counts of murder, nine
counts of attempted murder and six counts each of assaults
and possession of a weapon. Collectively,
those sentences added up to a term of 133-1/4
years to life. Under sentencing laws in effect
at the time, his minimum became 25 years,
the longest of those imposed. That made his
actual sentence 25 years to life.
Berkowitz was received into the system
like any other inmate. He was not considered
an institutional threat and therefore did not require isolation.
There were, however, concerns he could be victim-prone because of the notoriety of his crime. He was therefore placed
in Clinton Correctional Facility’s APPU where he left his
cell daily to participate in programs with the other 257 inmates on that unit.
With time, the notoriety of his crime passed. Since 1987,
he has been housed in the general population at the Sullivan
Correctional Facility.
If Southport and Upstate are to be misrepresented as
“super-maxes,” logic suggests the same misnomer should
apply to the 38 smaller disciplinary housing units operated at
other prisons across the state. Not even the most vocal critics
extend their definitions to label them as “super-maxes.” q

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

VII. Prison protocols provide safety, security for all
he Department’s March 30 work force of 31,597 employees included 19,701 Officers plus 1,935 uniformed
supervisors that include Sergeants, Lieutenants and Captains. The 9,961 civilian staff includes teachers, counselors,
vocational instructors, health care workers, chaplains, secretaries, maintenance workers and support staff.
The DOCS Employees’ Manual explains that the mission of
the Department is twofold:

T

• The constitutional operation of facilities that are safe
for employees and inmates and that provide security
for the communities surrounding state prisons.
• The humane confinement of offenders and the offering
of programs that will contribute to their successful return to the community upon release.
The manual further provides that all employees shall cooperate in maintaining the security and good order of the facility.
Each employee shall maintain an attitude and posture of alertness at all times. When supervising inmates, employees shall
not allow their attention to be diverted in any way that interferes
with the supervision of inmates. The manual further provides
that employees must be constantly alert to detect and remove
fire hazards, contraband, or any material or device that might be
used to attempt an escape.
Staff is constantly alert to detect inmates engaged in any improper activities. Employees must exercise the utmost vigilance to detect any violation
or infraction, including improper sexual conduct, and to
DOCS inmate to
enforce compliance by inInmates
mates with Department and March 31 of:
facility rules. Hence, regard1994
65,677
less of the specific nature of
1995
67,814
any individual employee’s job
1996
68,366
responsibilities, all employ1997
69,465
ees are on notice that safety
and security are a part of ev1998
69,305
eryone’s job duties.
1999
70,287
New York has a record of
staffing its prisons for the
workload assigned to its employees, rather than basing
staffing upon a calculation
driven solely by the inmate
capacity of any prison.

2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006

71,423
69,507
66,976
66,369
64,794
63,307
62,980

That commitment was
never more obvious than since
the prison population began dropping in the 21st Century. The
Department said that while the declining population would lead
to staffing reductions, they would be moderated by a close look
at staffing to ensure all necessary posts and jobs were retained.

The chart above shows the population began dropping in
2001 from 2000 levels. It declined by 12 percent through March
April 2006

Staffing comparison on December 31, 2005
State

Officers

Inmates

Ratio

California

28,000

168,035

1:6

Texas

23,720

139,221

1:6

Florida

12,096

81,199

1:7

New York

19,576

62,732

1:3

of this year. Correction Officer staffing was at its highest in
2001, but attrition did not begin to take effect there until 2002, a
year after the inmate population reduction had begun. Even
then, only a 5 percent attrition has occurred among Correction
Officers through March of this year. That’s less than half the decline in the inmate population.
It is that commitment to safe and secure operations, rather
than to any simplistic staffing formulas, that leads to an Officer-to-inmate ratio of one Officer to three inmates in New York,
compared to one Officer to seven inmates in Florida and one
Officer to six inmates in both California and Texas.
New York’s intensive staffing levels may in part explain the
modest 3.3 percent turnover rate in 2002 for Officers leaving
the Department for all reasons. That’s compared to a 9.3 percent
turnover rate among all New York state employees, according
to the State Department of
Civil Service.

Officer ratios

The annual turnover rate
among
Correction Officers
Officers
Ratio
nationally
was 17 percent in
17,965
1:3.66
2002, according to the latest
18,814
1:3.60
data available from The Cor18,841
1:3.63
rections Yearbook, which also
lists Officer turnover rates of
19,320
1:3.60
23 percent in Texas, 18 per19,801
1:3.50
cent in Florida and 17 percent
20,070
1:3.50
in California.
20,299
1:3.52
Security is a daily challenge
20,410
1:3.41
On a day-to-day basis, security
staff face an enormous
19,812
1:3.38
and
ongoing
challenge to fos19,279
1:3.44
ter the safest and most secure
19,160
1:3.38
correctional environment
19,163
1:3.30
possible. The prevention of
possible disturbances is ac19,701
1:3.19
corded enormous priority. Security staff know that most disturbances can be prevented if
staff can interpret and act on changes in institutional atmosphere and inmate behavior patterns. This in turn requires staff
to understand the key identifiers, to monitor them and to understand what is normal under the totality of the circumstances.
Inmates who are considered high profile are closely moniPage 22

Prison safety in New York

tored. These include inmates with a history of disruptive behavior and those who have possessed serious contraband such
as weapons. Some have attempted to lead mass demonstrations,
work stoppages or other banned activities inside of prison.
They also include inmates who have a history of escape or possession of escape paraphernalia, as well as inmates who have
taken hostages or killed while in prison. It also includes those
known or suspected to be attempting to run outside criminal enterprises from inside their prison cells.

Contraband detection an on-going process
Contraband can include such items as drugs, weapons,
money, cell phones, keys, maps, unauthorized medication, racist or gang-related literature and conviction information about
other inmates.
One category – weapons – poses the most serious challenge
to institutional security and the safety of staff and inmates alike.
The more successful staff is at identifying, locating and confiscating weapons, the safer and more secure each institution will
be.

Security staff are aware that effective communication with
the inmate population is important in
Breakdown of 4,880 Unusual Incidents
the prevention of
in all DOCS facilities in 2005
potential disturbances. It is thereAssault on Staff
Assault on
Contraband
fore important to
11%
Inmate
Cash
know which in14%
2%
mates are regarded
Contraband
as religious or orDrug
ganizational leadAccident
7%
8%
ers, which inmates
are members of auContraband
thorized facility
Other Incidents
Weapon
15%
committees as part
24%
of the grievance
process or as memContraband
bers of the Inmate
Employee
Other
Weapon
Use
Liaison Committee
2%
3%
elected to represent
Death
Disruptive
Temporary
4%
the population with
Behavior
Release
6%
each facility’s ex4%
ecutive staff.
There are a host
of indicators that
may signal the onset of potential trouble. Some may appear innocuous at first glance. For example, a significant spike in the
quantity of nonperishable items purchased from the commissary could mean more than hungry inmates. It could mean they
are hoarding food because a food strike is imminent. Inmates
donning extra sweatshirts and jackets may not just be cold.
They could be donning protection for a mass fight in the yard
where the use of cutting and stabbing weapons is expected.
The details of all of the many different Department security
protocols and procedures for the prevention of disturbances are
highly confidential. They will not be published here. Suffice it
to say that facility security staff are assigned a wide array of
tasks and monitoring responsibilities designed to alert them to
the potential for trouble at the earliest juncture, before it can escalate into something more serious.
The impact and success of these regimens can be seen in the
fact that the last major prison disturbance occurred in July 1997
– almost nine years ago – at the Mohawk Correctional Facility.
That is not to say that an incident cannot occur at any moment.
But the record indicates that staff do an excellent job on a daily
basis of recognizing and dealing with potential sources of violence.
Page 23

This responsibility is
extremely formidable
because inmates can be
extremely ingenious at
fashioning a weapon
from just about anything.
For example, inmates
have been known to
sharpen the handle of a
toothbrush to use it as a
stabbing weapon. They
have also melted razor
blades into the bristles to
wield the toothbrush as a
slashing weapon.

Another
deadly
weapon is a sock – after
placing a rock or lock inside the toe. A common
weapon is the sharpened
lid from a food can purchased through the facility commissary. Even the
plastic rim from a pair of eyeglasses has been sharpened to fashion a weapon.
Given that ingenuity, it is not a large step for inmates to
sharpen into a shank just about every piece of metal, wood or
glass that can be found in a prison, especially in a vocational
shop, Division of Industries program or a construction site on
prison grounds.
Inmates will also attempt to steal and make weapons from
any of the myriad of tools and implements that are necessary for
day-to-day facility operations and infrastructure maintenance.
On a college campus or in a large office building, diners think
nothing of entering a cafeteria for a meal. In a prison, every implement used in the kitchen or mess hall to prepare, serve or eat
a meal is a potential weapon.
Security staff must be relentless in their ongoing efforts to
identify, locate and confiscate contraband. As new potential
sources of contraband are identified, the Department’s headquarters in Albany endeavors to keep facilities aware of new
threats.

In many cases, that contraband includes articles that are perfectly legal on the street:
• Footwear companies are always looking for ways to
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

Drug Contraband, 1995-2005
500
400

Incidents

produce new products
that offer extra options for
consumers. One produced a line of running
shoes in which the heel
slid open to conveniently
carry house keys while
jogging. In prison, that
hollowed out heel could
contain a razor-type
weapon, drugs, money or
several other types of
contraband.

300
200
100

• The same applies to “can
0
safes” available to the
1995 1996 1997
general public – empty
aluminum cans encircled
with well-known brand labels. They are sold empty
and designed to be filled with valuables and hidden in
plain sight.

Among them are
proper, professional
and
appropriate
searches of inmates as a
key element in discovering contraband. Employees are taught and
constantly reminded
that while they must be
thorough in the conduct
of such searches, they
must also be sensitive
to the dignity of the inmate being searched.

Personal searches
may consist of metal
detector searches, pat
frisks, mouth searches, or strip searches/strip frisks.

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005

• A personal security device available to consumers is a
simple-looking ballpoint pen – but one capable of delivering a shock of 100,000 volts.

The pat frisk and the strip frisk represent the front line in the
ongoing crusade to remove oftentimes dangerous contraband
from the possession of inmates.

Both are dependent upon the professionalism and thoroughness of the frisking Officer. A superficial pat frisk or strip frisk
• An office supplier once produced what looked liked a
procedure may allow contraband to evade detection, thus comstandard ball-point desk
promising safety and
pen. But it did double duty:
security for staff and
Cut/Stab Weapon Contraband, 1995-2005
pulling apart the two ends
inmates alike.
of the pen unsheathed a
3600
A pat frisk is dethree-inch steel blade, defined as a search by
signed to be used as a letter
3000
hand of an inmate’s
opener.
person and clothing
Number

2400
It is important that all security
staff be aware of the marketing
1800
of these legal and legitimate
products. All necessary infor1200
mation is relayed to security
staff at lineup at the beginning of
600
each day’s three, eight-hour
shifts at each prison. To reach
0
most employees, the informa1995 1996 1997 1998
tion is repeated at pre-shift lineups for 72 hours.
Body searches preserve inmate privacy
Inmates are not only ingenious at acquiring weapons and
other contraband. They are equally adept at concealing them on
their persons, in their living quarters and in common areas
throughout the prison.

For example, inmates attempt to conceal drugs wrapped in
plastic in their mouths. It is not unusual for an inmate to secrete
a taped shank or a razor blade in the rectum. Inmates may also
attempt to hide contraband within their hair, beards or clothing.
Female inmates oftentimes secrete contraband within the vaginal area.
Security staff rely upon a number of processes to combat and
detect efforts by inmates to obtain and secrete contraband.
April 2006

1999

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005
Year

search of the inmate’s clothing.

while the inmate remains fully clothed,
except that the inmate
is required to remove
coat, hat, and shoes.
Inmates are required to
run their fingers
through their hair and
spread fingers for visual inspection. The
search also includes a

There are certain circumstances when a pat frisk must be performed. These include upon entrance to a visiting room or prior
to an interview by a Department official, member of the Board
of Parole or other official visitor. There are other circumstances
when it is discretionary to conduct a pat frisk. These include
when going to and returning from housing areas or outside
work details, and en route to and from program and recreation
areas.
Strip searches/strip frisks require inmates to undress. They
are conducted when an inmate is transferred from one facility to
another, and after an inmate has had a contact visit with a visitor. They are also conducted upon reception into a disciplinary
housing unit.
Page 24

Prison Safety in New York

For a male inmate, the procedure involves the inmate having his mouth
searched, running his hands through his
hair, allowing his ears to be visually examined, lifting his arms to expose his
armpits, lifting his testicles to expose the
area behind his testicles, and bending
over and spreading his buttocks to expose
his anus to the frisking Officer. For females the procedures are similar except
that females must also squat to expose the
vagina.
Strip frisks must be conducted by an
Officer or employee of the same sex as
the inmate being searched. They must
also be conducted in clean, heated areas,
sufficient to provide comfort for disrobed
individuals, and they must also ensure
privacy. In addition, when inmates remove their clothing, clothes must not be
placed on the floor.

curred.
The video must be immediately delivered into the custody
of the Deputy Superintendent
for Security. Videotapes of strip
frisks or strip searches are not
viewed by anyone except as expressly authorized by the Deputy Superintendent for Security
or higher authority.
Recordings of strip frisks or
strip searches that do not depict
an incident are retained for a
minimum of 90 days. If a grievance has been filed on a strip
frisk or strip search that was recorded, but does not depict an
incident, the tape will be retained until the grievance is reStaff check BOSS chairs to ensure accurate readings. solved.

Strip frisks are conducted in areas designed to eliminate observation by the general population. During such frisks, staff
presence is limited to those necessary to perform the task.
Still photographs during frisks are strictly prohibited. The
strip frisk/search may be recorded via a fixed video system.
Staff may be required to videotape a strip frisk if inmates indicate they will actively resist the frisk, or if the use of physical
force may become necessary. Strict controls and reporting procedures are in place to ensure all policies are followed.
Directive 4910 requires each facility to prepare a monthly
monitoring report detailing strip frisk/strip search activities.
This report requires supporting documentation be provided
each time one of the following occurs: a strip frisk/strip search
is conducted based on probable cause (any such strip frisk
based on probable cause must be approved by a supervisor),
more than one Officer is present and able to view the frisk, and
when force is used to conduct the strip/search frisk.
This monthly report also requires the dates inspections were
completed by supervisory staff of areas designated for strip
frisks/searches. The report ensures, among other things, that
each facility has established designated strip frisk areas that are
heated to a level of human comfort, have appropriate floor coverings, and offer a place off the ground for clothing. This report
also requires all strip frisk/search grievances to be investigated.
Copies of all grievances filed by inmates and subsequent investigations of them are to be included in the report.
All of these reports and supporting documentation are retained at the facility and reviewed periodically by Central Office personnel in Albany to ensure compliance.
Strip searches or strip frisks may be videotaped only upon
authorization of a Sergeant or higher ranking supervisor. A videotape recording of any strip search or strip frisk shall be clearly
marked with the date of the frisk, the inmate’s name, Department identification number and the location where the frisk ocPage 25

The Deputy Superintendent for Security will ensure that all
strip search or strip frisk videotapes are erased after the established retention periods.
Equipment improves searches, lessens intrusion
The Department recognizes that, for everyone’s safety, it
must invest in state-of-the art search equipment and other security-related equipment. The marketplace offers a veritable
plethora of competing equipment, each touting its products as
far superior to the competition. But history has shown that if
products or technologies are adopted without proper testing, results other than those intended can sometimes occur.
Such was the case with a piece of high-tech equipment marketed on the premise that it was a “human presence detector.”
Promotional literature promised that for $6,000 to $15,000 per
unit, prison systems could detect a human presence through any
material at a distance of up to 500 meters.
The units were able to detect presence in no more than 30
percent of tests conducted by the Department. The Department’s experience led to similar tests conducted by other prison
experts with similar results. The Department never purchased
any of these machines.
The existence of such dubious claims is among the reasons
why potential product purchases must first be carefully examined by the Department’s Product Evaluation Committee
(PEC). It ensures extensive equipment tests are conducted
within operational settings by experienced security personnel
in order to assess the product’s performance capabilities and applicability to the corrections environment.
The BOSS Chair pictured above is a device that cleared this
PEC screening process. Chairs equipped with the Body Orifice
Scanning System are designed to help locate metal on an inmate’s person. The fully-clothed inmate is directed to sit in the
BOSS chair. If an inmate has metal secreted within the rectum
or vaginal area, or otherwise hidden within the waist or genital
area, the BOSS chair will detect it.
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

There are 99 BOSS chairs located in all the Department’s
correctional facilities, except for a few minimum-security prisons. Every maximum-security facility has two or more BOSS
chairs. Each unit costs $2,792. Hence, to date, the Department
has spent $276,408 in the acquisition of this important product.
Metal detector searches are also extremely important in the
overall effort to remove contraband, particularly weapons,
from the inmate population. Inmate metal detector searches are
similar to what Americans are now familiar with before boarding commercial air carriers. They can be accomplished by
means of a hand scanner passed around the body or by walking
through a stationary detector.
The Department has spent $407,000 for the purchase of
handheld metal detectors and has ensured their distribution
throughout all correctional institutions. There presently are
more than 1,100 units in the Department’s facilities at a cost of
$370 per unit.
Intercepting and confiscating contraband
Extraordinary efforts are expended to remove contraband
from the inmate population. Comparable efforts are also made
to intercept contraband before it is introduced into a facility, intentionally or not, through inmate visitors or incoming mail and
packages.
Most inmates will eventually be released from prison. It is
therefore crucial to try and maintain inmate family ties during incarceration. Even in those cases
where an inmate is not likely to
ever be released from prison, visitation can still be extremely important as an incentive for the inmate to obey the rules to facilitate
visits.
As a result, the Department
considers visitation by loved ones
to be an extremely important aspect of an inmate’s incarceration.
That’s why the Department encourages them and 771,092 inmate visitors were accommodated
in 2005.
The Department spends $1.3
million annually to provide free
bus service to transport visitors to
upstate prisons, augmenting the
commercial transportation services available to them.
When visitors arrive at state
prisons, they use visitation centers
established by the Department as a
place for them to change clothes,
eat and prepare themselves and
children for visits.
That being said, New York prisons are no different than those
April 2006

across the nation that discover contraband entering prisons
through visiting rooms or packages intended for inmates.
The initial processing of a visitor prior to the inmate visit is
therefore an extremely important aspect of contraband control.
All visitors to a correctional facility must pass through a
metal detector. The Department uses 229 walk-through metal
detectors to process both inmates as well as visitors. Since each
unit costs $4,900, the Department has spent $1.12 million for
these security devices.
In terms of visitor processing, if there is any difficulty in
clearing a visitor by the use of the walk-through metal detector,
then a hand-held scanner is used in an attempt to isolate the
problem area. Handbags, briefcases or other containers must
also be searched.
The ability to successfully screen for the presence of any
metal is crucial. There have been occasions when a bullet or a
knife has been smuggled into a prison. If a bullet makes its way
into the hands of an inmate, it is not an extraordinarily difficult
matter for the inmate to then craft a device from which the bullet
could be fired. Obviously, such a possibility is a nightmare scenario for correctional employees.
For a host of reasons, everyone has traditionally been barred
from bringing cell phones into prisons. This year, there is a new
reason. A private company is marketing a
self-protection device that looks like a
cell phone – but is in fact a handgun capable of firing a .22-caliber round.
Once a visitor clears processing, typical visitation protocols allow for a fair degree of physical contact between inmate
and visitor. A visitor and an inmate may
kiss and embrace at the beginning and end
of any contact visit.
It is during that contact that any contraband not detected during initial processing, may be physically passed from the
visitor to the inmate. In some instances,
the contraband may be contained in a balloon hidden in the visitor’s mouth, and
then transferred during a kiss. In the alternative, the balloon containing the contraband may be secreted within a body
cavity, removed during a bathroom visit
and then passed to the inmate in the visiting room.

There is no limit to the schemes devised by inmates and visitors by which
they attempt to introduce contraband into
the prison. Once contraband is introduced into the visiting room, it will only
be discovered if the assigned security
staff either observe it being passed or discover it during a routine search of the inStaff inspected and logged 584.663 inmate packages mate at the conclusion of the visit.
in 2005 to protect against incoming contraband.
While the processing of visitors
Page 26

Prison Safety in New York

through the metal detector
units is effective in identifying any metal objects, nonmetallic items will not be detected. This is an enormous
concern. Plastic switchblade
knives, which have been
confiscated by the Department, can be deadly weapons.

The presence of drugs
in correctional facilities
poses substantial risks to
the inmate population as
well as to staff. Inmates
who are under the influence of drugs may be more
inclined to act out or to
challenge authority. FurSecurity staff use an ion scanner to detect the presence of contraband. thermore, drugs in prisons
are inexorably associated
Drugs, of course, would
with
illegal
gangs,
extortion
and
strong
arm activities by certain
not be detected by metal scanners.
segments of the inmate population.
The Department has for the past two years been piloting a
In addition, inmates who ingest excessive quantities of drugs
new device called an ion scanner in an effort to prevent drug
can
become overdose victims. Since 1996, 27 inmates have
smuggling by visitors.
died from overdosing on illegal drugs. Numerous other inmates
Ion technology involves the collection of particles and vahad to be taken to outside hospitals for treatment of drug overpors using ion mobility spectrometry for identification and dedoses from which they recovered.
tection. This process detects and identifies the particles disTherefore, any documented presence of illegal drugs in
charged by many substances, such as drugs, that are absorbed or
prison
is a cause for concern. Last year alone, the Department
cling to the surface of other materials such as skin or clothing.
conducted 79,101 inmate drug tests. Of those, 3.6 percent proMinute traces of these particles are collected from skin or
duced results positive for the presence of drugs.
clothing by a hand-held vacuum or manual swipe method using
Packages are another source by which
a wand with a small cloth filter.
contraband can be introduced into a
The ion scanning device shown
prison. Last year alone, visitors brought
above is passed over and may come
211,175 packages that had to be scanned
into contact with an individual’s
before being released to inmates. In addihands, areas of clothing, personal
tion, inmates last year received an addiitems such as purses and handbags, or
tional 373,488 packages through the mail.
other articles that may retain microEach one of them had to be examined as
scopic traces of illicit substances.
well.
Visitors who are found to test posiAn inmate’s ability to receive packtive for having come into contact
ages from outside sources, such as family
with drugs, or who refuse to be tested,
members, is a privilege that is viewed as
will not be allowed entrance to the faan important aspect of prison life. Many
cility.
inmates are indigent and their only funds
are the dollar a day they earn working at
If an inmate tests positive or reprison jobs. Packages allow loved ones to
fuses an ion scanner test, then there is
provide basic amenities beyond the neprobable cause for a strip frisk and
cessities
provided by the state to all insufficient reason for urinalysis testmates.
For
inmates of greater means,
ing, a search of the inmate’s living
packages
allow
them to wear approved
quarters, and the placement of the innon-prison
clothing
and possess more
mate on a special watch.
property in their cells or other living arThe Department has two ion scaneas.
ners costing $44,518 apiece.
Thus the fear of losing package priviOne is assigned to the Elmira releges serves to promote good behavior. In
gion while the other is used in the
the context of the disciplinary system,
Green Haven region and at Sing Sing.
loss of packages for a specified period is
one of an array of possible sanctions that a
A team including a Sergeant and
hearing officer may impose upon inmates
two Correction Officers moves with
found guilty of misbehavior.
Security staff conducted 79,101 inmate drug tests
each unit on an unannounced sched- last year.
To assist in the search for contraband
ule to visit facilities in the region.
within those packages, the Department

Once they enter a prison, the team operates under the supervision of the facility Superintendent.
Page 27

has purchased 60 x-ray machines at an individual cost of
$28,637. q
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

VIII. Maintaining a professional security force
niformed personnel bear the brunt of security responsibilities in New York’s prisons.
By contrast, all employees in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons undergo Correction Officer training, whether they will ultimately
be assigned to fill security positions or serve, for example, as
teachers or counselors.

U

The Department’s 9,961 civilian employees therefore do not
undergo security training, but do bring the
training and certification necessary for their
job titles. They are responsible for carrying
out and recognizing
many of the secure protocols noted in this report.

mal screening process which includes an in-depth background
review, a medical examination, and a psychological screening
process. For appointment, candidates must have earned either a
high school diploma or GED. They must also be residents of
New York.
The background check must be thorough since Correction
Officers are also peace officers in New York state. That means
that these individuals
possess special powers
even when not on duty
in a correctional facility, such as the power
to make arrests for
crimes committed in
their presence.

As part of the background check, each
candidate is fingerBut it is the 19,701
printed to ascertain
Officers and 1,935 uniwhether there has been
formed supervisors
any prior involvement
who present the first
Trainees at the Academy in Albany.
with the criminal jusline of defense in New
tice system. In conYork prison security.
ducting this review, the Department is not restricted to conviction information. For example, a candidate may have had the
As a result, this section deals only with the training of those
records for a previous arrest sealed in accordance with the pertiemployees hired into the Civil Service security title of Correcnent sealing provisions of state law. The Department is legally
tion Officer, many of whom will earn promotion to Sergeant,
entitled to access the sealed records and examine the underlying
Lieutenant and then Captain. Promotions above that rank have
facts as part of its employment application screening process.
qualifications required to earn appointment by the CommisThis is set forth in Criminal Procedure Law section 160.60.
sioner.
Close screening of Officer recruits
Furthermore, non-criminal information that is uncovered
To ensure that it only employs the most qualified individuals,
which may reflect negatively on a candidate’s character and fitthe Department follows two separate and distinct, but equally
ness to be a Correction Officer is also relevant. For example,
important, avenues in the hiring of Officers:
prior employment with another state agency that led to an unfavorable termination might bear on character and fitness. In
• An intricate screening and selection process for Offisuch a scenario, pursuant to Civil Service Law section 50, the
cer recruit candidates.
Department would submit a formal request to the Department
• Meaningful, initial and annual training requirements
of Civil Service, asking that the candidate be disqualified on
for those applicants eventually hired.
this basis.
Correction Law section 7 specifies that no one can be apThe medical examination component is also conducted by
pointed to the position of Correction Officer unless that person
the Department of Civil Service. It is used to determine whether
has reached the age of 21. Furthermore, Correction Law secthe candidate meets certain physical criteria. The aspects of a
tion 22-a provides that no person convicted of a felony can be
person’s physical record examined include height and weight,
appointed as a Correction Officer. For any individual convicted
speech, vision including color vision, hearing, the cardiovascuof a misdemeanor, this same statute provides that it is within the
lar system, the respiratory system, neurological health, and
discretion of the Commissioner as to whether or not such permusculoskeletal health.
son should be hired.
Candidates must also be free of any medical condition that
Individuals who wish to be hired as Correction Officers must
would prevent them from working mandatory unscheduled
first take and pass a competitive examination that is adminisovertime. Finally, the presence of certain conditions might rentered by the Department of Civil Service. After the exam is
der a candidate medically unsuitable. For example, a candidate
scored, a list of eligible candidates is then certified by the Dewith diabetes must provide evidence of satisfactory medical
partment of Civil Service for use by the Department.
control. Similarly, a candidate with any type of epilepsy or seizure disorder must provide evidence of being seizure-free for at
Reachable candidates are then contacted to undergo the forApril 2006

Page 28

Prison Safety in New York

least one year, with or without medication.
All candidates must also undergo the psychological screening process required by Correction Law section 8. Three psychological instruments are administered to each candidate. In
addition, an interview with a licensed psychologist is part of the
process. Persons may be deemed ineligible for appointment if
they suffer from psychotic disorders, serious character disorders, or other disorders which could hinder their job performance. Any candidate who is determined to be psychologically
unfit may appeal that determination to a three-member independent advisory board. It consists of a licensed psychologist, a
licensed psychiatrist and a representative of the Department of
Civil Service.
The interviewing psychologist evaluates each candidate on
12 rating dimensions which are considered to be reflective of
overall psychological functioning and adjustment. The 12 dimensions are termed “Anticipated Performance Problems on

Essential Job Elements for Public Safety Officer Positions.”
These elements were derived from an analysis conducted by
California’s Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. The elements consist of social competence, teamwork,
adaptability and flexibility, conscientiousness and dependability, impulse control and attention to safety, integrity and ethics,
emotional regulation and stress tolerance, decision-making and
judgment, assertiveness and persuasiveness, avoiding substance abuse and other risk-taking behavior, problem solving
and learning and, finally, communication skills.
The Department is required to report annually to the Governor and the Legislature on the conduct of the program. It must
also report on the results of the program in improving the quality of Correction Officer candidates.
Intensive training begins at Albany Academy
Those candidates who successfully undergo the background
investigation, the medical examination and the psychological

“Bidding” controls Correction Officer assignments
Despite the public perception that the Department assigns
individual Correction Officers where it needs them, the reality
is that they “bid” positions based upon seniority.
The “bid” process was negotiated decades ago between the
Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) and the
Correction Officers’ collective bargaining agent.
Simply stated, the “bid” system mandates that a vacancy
must be filled by the most senior Officer who wants it.
That mandatory, seniority-based “bid” system results in
difficulties when trying to staff a prison system that extends
from Lake Erie and the Canadian border to New York City.
They occur when trying to match the location of employee
residences with the location of vacant jobs:
• Officer recruits, the least senior in the system, leave
the Training Academy and face mandatory
on-the-job training far from home. They are assigned
to facilities where the most vacancies routinely occur: Bedford Hills, Fishkill, Downstate, Green Haven and Sing Sing, all in the lower mid-Hudson region. Many of them transfer out of those prisons to
ones closer to home as soon as they gain the seniority
to do so. Their old jobs are back-filled from successive recruit classes and the process begins anew.
• Prison staffing in upstate areas reflects the local work
force that is overwhelmingly white. Most have few, if
any, minority staff. Staffing in state prisons in New
York City reflects the fact that racial minorities make
up a substantial percentage of its work force. Racial
minorities account for 89 percent of Edgecombe’s
work force and 88 percent at both Fulton and Lincoln.
• On paper, the numbers of female Officers appears
more promising. The Department has 2,072 female
Page 29

Correction Officers but only 1,616 Officer jobs in
prisons housing female offenders. That means if they
had the seniority and chose to, female Officers could
more than fill every security job at prisons housing
female inmates. But only 519 female Officers
choose to transfer into prisons housing female offenders. That means males must fill the remaining 68
percent of those positions at prisons housing females.
On Jan. 1, 2006, the Department’s work force of 32,179
employees was 75 percent white. Among the 19,615 Correction Officers, 84 percent were white. But among the 2,072 female Officers, 54 percent were non-white.
The Department believes its work force should more accurately reflect the makeup of the inmate population, which is
51 percent black, 27 percent Hispanic and 20 percent white.
The Department is always open to ideas on meeting that goal
within the parameters of equal opportunity and equal employment laws.
Over the years, it has been suggested that black and Hispanic Officers be provided inducements to transfer into upstate prisons, just as female Officers should be rewarded for
transferring into prisons housing females. In every case, those
proposals were successfully blocked by employees who saw
any incentives as violations of equal protection or equal employment opportunity laws.
For its part, the Department has for years intensively promoted and advertised upcoming Correction Officer exams offered by the Department of Civil Service, especially to attract
females, blacks and bilingual Spanish-speaking candidates.
The Department hopes that by increasing the racial minority
and female representation in its security work force, it will attract more minority Officers choosing to work at prisons outside of urban areas and female Officers choosing to work in
prisons housing female offenders.
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

screening process are then appointed to the Training Academy
as Correction Officer recruits.
The Albany Training Academy program is accredited by the
American Correctional Association as meeting nationally accepted standards for the training of security personnel.
The Training Academy experience spans an eight-week period during which candidates are taught a whole array of academic courses, physical techniques, and weapons familiarity, in
order to prepare them to become Correction Officers.
For example, they must learn such things as proper use of
force, unarmed defensive tactics, CPR and first aid, the proper
way to search an inmate’s cell, how to use a baton, and how to
conduct pat and strip frisks. They must demonstrate physical
strength and agility skills. In addition, they must qualify with
the service revolver and also fire the shotgun and the AR-15 rifle. Furthermore, they must be exposed to chemical agents to
experience firsthand the physical effects of this substance on
the human body.

fully completes probation and achieves permanent status.
It is for this reason that the Department repeatedly stresses
the critical importance of supervisors using this probationary
period to meticulously evaluate their probationary employees
and recommend the termination of any individual whose performance does not meet expectations.
Annual training keeps security staff up to date
A vibrant, well-trained and professional work force is the
most important consideration in operating a safe and humane
correctional system. As a result, the Department recognizes the
critical importance of regularly reinvesting in the work force by
providing a carefully structured and relevant curriculum as part
of its annual training program.
All security staff must receive no less than 40 hours of annual
training. Some of the training must cover topics that are mandated by law and arise because of the peace officer status accorded to security staff. Thus, security staff must re-qualify on
the range with the revolver. They also receive refresher training
on such topics as escape pursuit, use
of force, the baton and use of chemical
agents.

The academic courses cover a
litany of topics that are necessary
for the effective performance of a
A significant portion of annual
Correction Officer’s job. They intraining is dedicated to those topics
clude but are not limited to report
that are identified by the Department
writing, note taking, the imporas a priority. For example, training is
tance of correct inmate counts, depresently being provided in conneccision making, facility communition with the Prison Rape Elimination
cation, tool and key control, suicide
Act.
prevention, special needs of female
offenders, diversity management,
Finally, certain mandatory courses
cultural awareness, dealing with Proper use of the Automated External Defibrillator is must be provided at least once during
mentally ill inmates, and recogniz- part of recruit and ongoing staff training.
an Officer’s career. They include drug
ing abnormal behavior.
awareness, the Americans With Disabilities Act and the prevention of sexual harassment.
At the end of each week, an examination is administered to
the recruit class. If a recruit fails an examination, the recruit is
Mandatory topics comprise a substantial proportion of each
afforded one additional opportunity to receive a passing grade
year’s annual 40-hour allotment. There is also some leeway so
for the module by taking another examination. Recruits are terthat topics of immediate importance can also be inserted within
minated if they fail the second examination for any particular
the curriculum for a particular year. Presently, top priorities are
module. Also, a recruit will be terminated upon failure of any
suicide prevention and first aid including the use of Automated
two of the initial eight module examinations, without regard to
External Defibrillators (AEDs) shown above. Correction Offithe outcome of a second examination.
cers, oftentimes the first responders to an incident, are taught
that they must apply CPR, AEDs and first aid as required.
Recruits must also qualify on the firing range with the revolver. A recruit will be afforded multiple opportunities to
There are other topics which, because of their significance,
achieve a passing grade on the range but recruits will be termiare mandated to be provided once each year. These include esnated if they ultimately fail to qualify.
cape pursuit, fire and safety drills, suicide prevention, and dealing
with tuberculosis and blood-borne pathogens.
Finally, those candidates who graduate from the Training
Academy become probationary Correction Officers. They are
Certain additional topics are provided on a periodic basis.
assigned to correctional facilities for a three-week period of
For example, evidence collection, aggravated harassment of an
on-the-job training.
employee and emergency control procedures are required once
every three years. By the same token, crime scene preservation
Officer recruits are closely monitored during a one-year proand cultural diversity are required once every five years.
bationary period. A probationary employee has very limited job
retention rights. The appointing authority, in this case the DeIn order to permit security staff to absent themselves from
partment, will terminate those employees whose job perfortheir regularly assigned posts to attend training, the Department
mance is determined to be unsatisfactory. This is accomplished
has filled 369 Officer relief positions. Their job is to provide the
without having to resort to arbitration and other involved due
necessary coverage for those staff who are on-duty but off-post
process-type measures that arise once an employee successto attend training. q
April 2006

Page 30

Prison Safety in New York

IX. Internal monitoring promotes prison safety
epartment administrators know that continual feedback, introspection, monitoring and evaluation are critical in the overall effort to operate safe and secure prisons.
Facility managers must have first-hand knowledge of what is
taking place within their institutions on a daily basis.
Prison executive teams know there is no substitute for the
time-tested practice of regular rounds and direct interaction
with staff and the inmate population. That is a time when staff
and inmates can raise issues and concerns directly with facility
managers in a meaningful and positive manner. Invariably, this
will require some follow-up action by the executive staff to
demonstrate to staff as well as inmates that communication
flows both ways. It also provides executive staff with a
first-hand look at exactly what is going on within the institution.

D

On its face this may sound straightforward and uncomplicated. But the reality is that “making rounds” can be as physically demanding as it can be time-consuming.
The sheer size of the prison system makes “walking and talking” a daunting task. A physical inventory shows the Department’s 69 prisons include 4,059 buildings containing 38.3 million square feet of space. That does not include the acreage
worked on 13 prison farms across the state.
Medium-security prisons such as Fishkill include 93 buildings while there are 82 at Collins. Maximum-security Auburn
has 79 and Sing Sing is right behind with 78 structures.
In addition to the inmate housing areas, facilities also contain
such locations as a mess hall, gymnasium, classrooms, vocational shops, infirmary, dental area, pharmacy, commissary,
chapel, mosque, a disciplinary housing unit, mental health unit,
industry area, outdoor recreation yard, general library, law library, and many other areas of inmate access. The executive
team must also visit and oversee staff located in areas not accessible to the inmate population.
This aspect of correctional administration is quite labor intensive and potentially exhausting. But Department managers
know that it is crucial in order for facility management to keep
its hand on the pulse of the facility. It is necessary to detect and
defuse any issues of inmate and staff concern before they can
fester into something more problematic.
Furthermore, frequent facility site visits are also important
for high-ranking Central Office staff, including the Commissioner and his executive team, so that they too can stay on top of
and audit facility operations. This responsibility takes on even
added significance with the time and effort required to schedule
and coordinate visits and rounds in 69 prisons across the state.
It is for that reason the Department holds facility supervisors
responsible for making rounds. Several areas of prisons are required to have log books where visiting staff are required to sign
in. Supervisors are required to sign in red ink so the record of
their visits stands out.
Superintendents, for example, are expected to be present for
the day shift and rounds are an integral part of their duties.
Page 31

However, they are equally expected to monitor operations by
making unannounced rounds on afternoon and overnight shifts,
as well as on holidays and weekends.
Superintendents and their executive team members are required to visit disciplinary housing units at least once each
week while Captains visit them every single day.
Secure posts are inspected by Sergeants on at least a
bi-weekly basis and monthly by watch commanders.
Inmates support, use grievance procedures
While such direct interaction with the inmate population
generates significant feedback, there are numerous other avenues that likewise generate helpful intelligence about institutional conditions.
But none are more elaborate or significant than the Inmate
Grievance Program. Its legitimacy and credibility with inmates
stems in part from the fact that they elect two inmates at each
prison to be part of the official grievance resolution program.
That allows this unique program to do more than afford inmates a simple and orderly opportunity to seek redress for their
complaints.
Inmates use the grievance program because they have come
to accept it as fair and legitimate – in large part because they
know they are represented in the process by other inmates.
Giving inmates the alternative of taking pen to paper to file a
grievance enhances institutional security and safety.
In the aftermath of the 1971 Attica riot, the Legislature created the McKay Commission to look into a number of factors,
including the riot’s underlying causes. The McKay Commission concluded that a major cause of inmate tension had been
the lack of a nonviolent means of resolving inmate grievances.
Similarly, the 1972 report by the New York State Select
Committee on Correctional Institutions and Programs noted
that grievance machinery must be provided to assure minimum
standards of fairness. It suggested the handling of an individual
grievance may be the best way to prevent it from becoming a
widespread complaint and possibly a source of general tension
and difficulty in the institution.
As a result, and because relief in the courts was deemed neither a workable nor a desirable solution, the Legislature in 1975
enacted Correction Law section 139, creating the Inmate Grievance Program.
This required the Department to establish grievance resolution committees in each prison and to promulgate rules and regulations establishing their unified procedures for the fair, simple and expeditious resolution of inmate complaints. The regulations specify that this program is not an adversary process.
They further provide that the concepts of mediation and conflict
resolution are to be utilized to obtain resolutions.
A grievance is defined as a complaint about the substance or
application of any written or unwritten policy, regulation, procedure or rule of the Department or any of its program units, or
the lack of policy, regulation, procedure or rule.
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

At each facility, a five-member Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee (IGRC) consists of two voting inmates, two
voting staff members, and a
nonvoting chairperson. The
fact that inmates serve as voting members establishes the
legitimacy of the program in
the eyes of the inmate population. Equally important, these
inmate representatives are
elected by the general population to represent them for
six-month terms.
Appeals from decisions at
the facility level are sent to
the Central Office Review
Committee (CORC) which
consists of designees of each
of the Department’s five
Deputy Commissioners.
Other Central Office personnel may sit in on CORC meetings
but only the representatives of the Deputy Commissioners may
vote.
While the prison population has declined from 68,489 inmates in December 1995 to 62,732 inmates at the end of last
year, the number of grievances rose from 37,067 in 1995 to
45,345 last year.
While inmates most often grieved staff conduct and then
medical issues as their top concerns in the 1990s, those issues
were flipped in grievances filed beginning in 2002. Last year,
medical issues accounted for 18 percent of grievances followed
by 16 percent for staff conduct, 7 percent about housing, 5 percent concerned package rooms and 4 percent involved disciplinary housing. All other issues garnered a smaller share of
complaints.
The action requested last year in inmate grievances was accepted wholly or in part 33 percent of the time, giving credence
to a substantial percentage of inmate complaints.
The Department also realizes that, inside as well as outside
of prison, justice delayed is often viewed as justice denied. The
average time to resolution of a grievance has been reduced from
66 days in 2000 to 57 days last year. Those numbers document
that the Department takes grievances and their resolution seriously.
Facility administrators and grievance staff are constantly reminded not only of the critical importance of conducting thorough investigations into each grievance, but also the importance of doing so within the specified time frames required by
the regulations. This message has been repeatedly delivered to
facility superintendents by Commissioner Goord and his executive staff.
The Inmate Grievance Program generates unparalleled feedback on day-to-day operations throughout the system. Each
grievance is assigned a numeric code according to the subject
matter of the complaint. There are 50 subject codes in order to
April 2006

allow close tracking of each area. They include such topics as
correspondence, the phone home program, vocational programs, media review, religion, the
family reunion program, dental, medical, strip frisk, pat
frisk, package room,
commissary, inmate
accounts, laundry,
law library, general
library, grooming
standards and staff
conduct.
All facilities must
keep accurate information on the numbers of grievances
that are filed each
month and their subject matter and report such information to Central Office.
Central Office uses that information to monitor grievance
activity throughout the entire system. For example, Central Office is able to examine total grievance activity at each facility
for each month and then compare each total to the prior month’s
total to see if there has been an increase, a decrease or no
change. Central Office will do the same thing on statistical totals for the entire year.
It will also look at the specific categories of grievances to see
if there are any anomalies which may warrant concern. For example, a sudden, sharp increase in a facility’s monthly total for
mess hall grievances may raise an immediate alarm. That’s because food is a significant issue for the inmate population. In
the face of such a sharp increase, facility and Central Office
staff will quickly investigate such complaints.
Data are also used to compare the level and types of complaints being filed at comparable prisons. Tracking how facilities compare to their peers often allows facilities to help one another. It allows prisons with low numbers of grievances in a particular area to offer suggestions to those with higher numbers
on how to change policies and procedures to reduce grievances.
The grievance program has shown itself to be a more legitimate barometer of inmate complaints than are inmate surveys
generated by outside groups.
For example, the Correctional Association of New York
State testified in Los Angeles in February 2006 before the
self-appointed Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s
Prisons. It reported on the preliminary results of a questionnaire
it sent to 12,125 New York state prison inmates.
According to the Correctional Association’s testimony, it
sought their detailed complaints on a variety of prison matters.
While inmate grievances filed with the Department must include the name of grievants so that a personal response can be
issued, the Association promised to cloak its respondents in anonymity in exchange for their “candor.”
Page 32

Prison Safety in New York

Even with that offer of anonymity, the Association said it obtained only 609 responses. By comparison, inmates signed their
names to 872 complaints filed each and every week last year
under the Inmate Grievance Program. (See chart below.)
Those comparative numbers suggest inmates view the Department’s grievance program as a far more legitimate and
credible venue to air and resolve their real concerns than an
anonymous survey conducted by even an inmate lobbying
group.
Video surveillance monitors staff, inmates
The Department is meticulous in video recording what happens inside of prisons to provide a visual record of events. Videotapes have been used both to exonerate and to condemn the
actions of employees as well as inmates.
The use of videotaping technology has been wholeheartedly
embraced, not just in New York but by correctional systems
throughout the country. The Department has made and continues to make a major capital investment in the installation and
operation of fixed videotaping and recording
systems.
Since 1994, the Department has spent in
excess of $35 million
for the installation of
these fixed systems. In
addition, the Department also makes ample
use of handheld videotaping capabilities in
order to record certain
events.

Inmate
50,000

40,000

30,000
The Department’s
policy on handheld videotaping provides that
incidents, activities and
20,000
searches may be videotaped to provide documentation for use in
disciplinary or criminal
proceedings and to record actions of inmates and staff.

• Any other activity as directed by the watch commander or higher ranking authority.
Inspector General is ‘in-house cop’
New York State Correction Law section 112 empowers and
mandates the Commissioner to investigate all matters connected with the state’s correctional facilities.
Since 1972, the Commissioner has designated the Department’s Inspector General to fulfill that role by conducting inquiries and investigations. The Inspector General, like all
members of the Department’s executive staff, reports directly
to the Commissioner.
The Department recognizes that criminal behavior, staff or
inmate abuse, employee misconduct and/or corruption,
threaten its ability to provide a safe, humane and lawful environment. Thus, such malfeasance will not be tolerated.

It is the role of the Inspector General to conduct investigations and, where warranted, to develop and present the evidentiary bases to support administrative,
disciplinary proceedings and/or
criminal prosecugrievances filed by year
tions against transgressors, which may
include staff, inmates, visitors, contractors and any
other individuals
who are afforded access to a correctional facility.

1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005

The incidents and activities that may be videotaped include
but are not limited to:
• Use or expected use of force during cell/room extractions and/or entries;
• Use or expected use of chemical agents;
• Unauthorized inmate activity (where it can be reasonably expected that serious security violations may result or where physical force may be necessary);

The Inspector
General is also the
Department’s liaison with all other
police and law enforcement agencies
on the federal, state
and local levels.

Most police dramas cast Internal
Affairs-type units as the wearers of the proverbial black fedoras. In prison, the Inspector General is viewed by most inmates
as the unit that will investigate employees and inmates whose
conduct may jeopardize the safety of staff and inmates alike.
The vast majority of employees are dedicated and
hard-working professionals who welcome the Inspector General’s efforts to safeguard their workplace by rooting out misconduct wherever it might be found.

• Movement of inmates to and from disciplinary housing or mental health units;

The Inspector General’s office is comprised of 100 employees deployed in several units with a Deputy IG overseeing each
unit. These are the units that focus exclusively on internal
prison matters:

• Movement of inmates during transportation or preparation for same, and

• The Internal Affairs Division last year investigated
1,367 allegations involving employee and inmate vio-

Page 33

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

lations of the Department’s Rules and Regulations and
the Penal Law.
• The Narcotics Unit last year conducted 357 investigations into the flow of narcotics into correctional facilities by inmates, visitors or staff, as well as their distribution and use within correctional facilities.
• The Sex Crimes Unit last year investigated 314 allegations of sexual misconduct. That included 118 allegations of staff-on-inmate misconduct of a sexual nature
plus 47 of sexual harassment. It includes 77 cases of
unauthorized staff-on-inmate contact being investigated to determine if improper sexual contact/harassment occurred. There are also 27 cases of inmate-on-inmate sexual misconduct. The remaining 45
allegations involve non-inmate contact such as
staff-on-staff and incidents occurring outside of correctional facilities. (See discussion of the federal
Prison Rape Elimination Act under Section X of this
report.)
Staff who are recruited to become IG investigators receive
specialized training in investigative techniques and the development of cases. Staff from other Departmental units provide
instruction as part of the training of new investigators, including Counsel’s Office, the Bureau of Labor Relations, and the
Office of Inmate Discipline.
Department employees face sanctions if they refuse to submit to questioning by investigators in relation to any official investigation into the performance of their duties. However, if the
answers to a question may potentially incriminate the employee, then their answers are by law cloaked with use and derivative use immunity in relation to any subsequent criminal
proceeding. On the other hand, the answers can and will be used
against the employee in relation to Departmental charges when
appropriate.
In performing their day-to-day investigative responsibilities, investigators will go to extraordinary lengths not only to
protect the identities of staff and inmates who willingly provide
information about alleged wrongdoing, but to also disguise,
wherever possible, even the fact that an interview has even
taken place.
No tolerance for sexual abuse of inmates
Commissioner Goord is adamant that staff and inmates both
remain safe and secure in prison. One of the key elements in attaining that goal is to ensure that no sexual contact occurs between staff and inmates. It has always been the Commissioner’s
opinion that since inmates cannot give free consent to participate in sexual relations, all such contact with staff should be a
crime.
In fact, it was the Department which first proposed legislation back in the mid-1980s to criminalize any and all sexual relationships between staff and inmates. At that time, a consensual sexual relationship between an employee and an inmate
was not defined as a crime. The Department’s position has always been that given the paramount authority employees exercise over inmates who are dependent upon staff for the fulfillment of every basic human need, the law should not counteApril 2006

nance such behavior under any circumstances. In the same
manner that a person is legally incapable of consenting to a
sexual relationship who is less than 17 years of age, mentally
disabled, mentally incapacitated or physically helpless, the
same should hold true for an inmate.
In 1996, Governor Pataki signed legislation which accomplished this result. It specifies that an inmate is legally incapable of consenting to a sexual relationship with a Department
employee. The law defines “employee” as anyone who performs professional duties in a correctional facility consisting
of providing custody, medical or mental health services, counseling services, educational programs, or vocational training
for inmates.
While the enactment of this law greatly fortifies the ability
of the Department to enforce its zero tolerance policy, the Department is seeking further changes to make it even more effective. The Department has proposed two bills that have been
pending before the Legislature for the past few years.
The first would criminalize such behavior between an inmate and any Department employee, not just those who exercise some type of direct authority over the inmate. This bill
would also criminalize such behavior with any outside volunteer.
The second bill would add a provision to the Correction
Law making it an affirmative duty for any employee who has
any knowledge or a reasonable belief of any type of a sexual relationship taking place between an inmate and another employee to report such information to the facility Superintendent. Failure to do so would subject such employee to disciplinary action. The Department remains hopeful that the Legislature will act favorably on these two proposals in the current legislative session, so that every reasonable safeguard will be
taken to protect inmates.
Following the enactment of the 1996 amendment, the Department’s Inspector General’s Office became one of the first
prison-based investigative bodies in the nation to establish a
Sex Crimes Unit. Investigators assigned to this unit specialize
in cases related to sexual misconduct within the system. All
criminal investigations are conducted in conjunction with the
New York Division of State Police and, when appropriate, local
district attorneys.
Since the inception of this unit, 75 cases of staff-on-inmate
sexual abuse have been referred for outside prosecution. Of
these 75 cases, 38 have resulted in criminal convictions, including 17 felonies and 21 misdemeanors. Another six cases resulted in non-criminal dispositions such as a violation adjudication or adjournment in contemplation of dismissal. Sixteen
cases led to acquittals, dismissals or determinations not to prosecute, and 15 cases are presently pending.
To make its zero tolerance policy unequivocally clear to the
entire work force, the Department has created a mandatory
training lesson plan for every Department employee entitled
“Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Inmates.” As part of this lesson plan, a videotape is played that includes the identification
of three Department employees. Because of their having enPage 34

Prison Safety in New York

gaged in sexual relationships with inmates, each went from being employees of the Department to being inmates under its
confinement.
The Department continues to regard any type of inappropriate relationship between an employee and an inmate as a egregious act of misconduct, even if there is no allegation of any
sexual behavior having taken place. This could include, for example, the exchange of gifts or non-sexual favors.
These cases, as well as those that are initiated due to one or
more sexual allegations, but did not result in a criminal prosecution or conviction, are pursued by the Department’s Bureau
of Labor Relations. It conducts administrative proceedings that
seek to terminate the offending employee. For calendar years
2003-05, 113 employees were administratively disciplined for
misconduct involving improper dealings with inmates.
Sixty-five have resulted in employee termination or resignation. Under state and federal privacy statutes, the Department is
prohibited from releasing information contained in employee
personnel files.
Department monitors gangs, members
Different states have wholly different philosophies when it
comes to addressing prison gangs and their membership.
In some states, gang members are locked up upon reception
just for their outside gang affiliation, very often in
around-the-clock administrative segregation similar to disciplinary housing in New York prisons.
In other states, they are housed together and allowed to congregate openly in yards and mess halls.

trol drug and other contraband traffic within particular prisons.
The Department closely monitors those inmates to determine if they are actively involved in gang-related activity. If
they are not, they remain in general population where they are
monitored but otherwise treated the same as non-gang inmates.
It would not serve the Department’s security interests or
prison safety to alert gangs as to how many of its members have
been identified or where they are located. It would frustrate security to give inmates information they could use to strengthen
their own ranks or to destabilize other gangs.
Therefore, for security reasons the Department does not publicly release its data on gangs and memberships used daily to
monitor their activity inside of prison.
Instead, the Department has declared such gang activity to be
in violation of Departmental rules. Individuals will be punished
for acting as a member of a gang. Gangs are not allowed to recruit, they are not allowed to circulate their literature and they
are not allowed to display their colors. They are not allowed to
organize or to hold meetings of their membership.
Correction Officers know that their first line of defense
against major gang activity is to interdict individual behavior
before it mushrooms into group activity. They know it is their
obligation to write disciplinary tickets against individual inmates who participate in unapproved behavior or activity. Not
only does that result in punishment for such activity, but it alerts
the system that this inmate is a gang member, a status that will
remain with the inmate regardless of future prison transfers.

Some states talk about exact numbers of gang memberships
by individual prison as well as across their systems.

If a prison incident occurs and gang-related activity can be
documented, an additional disciplinary charge of gang activity
can also be added against individual inmates.

New York’s approach is consistent with its policy, as stated
herein, that inmates come to prison alone, do their time alone,
and are solely responsible for their own actions. The policy is
also consistent with rules demanding that inmate treatment be
based upon their prison conduct, not upon their status prior to
commitment.

In any of these cases, individual inmates are held responsible
if they are found to be acting as members of gangs. Inmates face
the full array of discipline, from disciplinary confinement and
loss of good time to loss of privileges and movement to a prison
further from home.

Simply stated, inmates are disciplined in New York only for
gang activity in correctional facilities, not for simple gang
membership on the outside. The only exceptions have been the
half-dozen inmates locked up in the past decade for their street
roles as leaders of violent gangs. That was done to prevent them
from inciting gang activity in prison.
The Department is aware of which inmates are gang members and their affiliation through pre-sentence reports, descriptions of the crime of commitment, reception interviews, police
arrest reports and intelligence from county jails and other law
enforcement sources. Constant monitoring of the inmate population discloses emerging gangs, new memberships and changing alliances once offenders are incarcerated.
The Department knows, for example, that there are roughly a
dozen main gangs with members across the system. There are
also regional gangs attracting inmate members from their parts
of the state. There are also local gangs operating as predators
within some facilities just as there are those who attempt to conPage 35

As a result of monitoring and disciplinary sanctions, New
York has seen a decline in inmate disciplinary convictions for
gang activity.
Inmate convictions on disciplinary tickets for gang activity
written by staff, mostly Correction Officers, peaked at 1,896 in
1998. That number dropped by 38 percent to 1,173 convictions
last year. Since the average daily population declined from
69,885 inmates in 1998 to 63,357 last year, that means the rate
of such disciplinary convictions dropped from 27 per 1,000 inmates in 1998 to 19 last year.
Monitoring inmate program participation
The goal of the Department’s Program Services component
is to meet every inmate’s identified program needs prior to release. Program Services’3,510 staff includes teachers, counselors, vocational instructors and substance abuse treatment staff.
The identification of inmate needs begins at the reception
center with a review of the pre-sentence report, past history,
standardized testing and an interview with a counselor.
The Department and others have conducted extensive reApril 2006

Prison Safety in New York

search to determine the types of programs that best provide inmates with the tools necessary to successfully reintegrate into
the community upon release from prison.

shows the percentage of inmates who had completed or participated in a needed program at the time of their release from
prison.

That’s led to the Department’s core program priorities of offering inmates academic education, vocational training, substance abuse treatment, aggression replacement counseling and
sex offender counseling.

The graphic shows great progress has been made over the
past two years since this monitoring process was established.
But these percentages also document just as clearly that work
still needs to be done, especially in terms of programming inmates in vocational training and transitional services.

In addition, every inmate is required to complete the three
phases of Transitional Services. Phase I focuses on adjustment
The Department also wants to improve academic education,
to incarceration, developing a plan to address program needs,
although it is extremely difficult for inmates to meet the goal of
maintaining relationships with family members, making good
obtaining a GED. It would be difficult to make up as much as 12
decisions and beginning
years of elementary
the process of obtaining
and secondary edudocuments that will be
cation if that was an
Inmate participation in assigned programs
necessary for reentry
inmate’s sole pro4th Quarter 2003 4th Quarter 2005
such as a birth certificate
gram during an avand social security card.
erage prison term
100%
Phase II includes
of 3-4 years.
90%
courses on health,
That goal be80%
self-development, comcomes even more
munication skills and
70%
difficult when inconflict management.
60%
mates are at the
Phase III addresses ca50%
same time trying to
reer development, tranmeet program goals
40%
sition to ex-offender stain vocational train30%
tus, money management
ing, sex offender
20%
and family reintegrat r e a t m e n t , s u b10%
tion.
stance abuse treatAlthough needs vary
among inmates, approximately 75 percent of
them require at least
three of these core programs. Inmates are advised of these needs
while in reception.

0%

Academic
Education

Substance
Abuse
Treatment

Vocational
Training

Thereafter, inmates meet every three months with their assigned counselors who track their progress relative to meeting
each program need. Counselors enter that data on the guidance
and counseling computer system. Quarterly computer codes indicate if an inmate has completed a needed program, is currently participating in one, refuses to participate or is unavailable due to discipline, medical, or some other reason.
These computer codes form the basis of a comprehensive
evaluation system allowing the Department to monitor how
well the system as a whole, and individual facilities in particular, are doing in reaching the program goals of all inmates prior
to their release.
Every three months, the Department generates a report
which looks closely at every inmate released during the previous quarter to determine if program needs were met and if not,
why not.
The graphic above records the Department’s progress in
meeting the needs of inmates who were released in the fourth
quarter of 2003 versus the same period in 2005. The graphic
April 2006

Aggression Sex Offender Transitional
Counseling Counseling
Services

ment, aggression
counseling and
transitional services.

Thus, time remains the true culprit behind inmates not finishing all required programs prior to
their release. The Department is looking at ways to more efficiently schedule inmate time and programs to maximize their
completion of needed requirements.
Critics who don’t understand prison program scheduling argue that the Department has program “waiting lists” because
not all inmates who need a particular program have yet received
it. Anyone who understands college course scheduling knows
why the critics are wrong.
Senior-level electives, for example, do not need classroom
space for freshman until those freshman complete lower-level
courses and become seniors. Similarly, inmates have a multiplicity of needs that require scheduling them for several successive programs. There only has to be – and there are – vacancies
in a particular program when an inmate is programmed for it.
There need not be space in a vocational program, for example, for an inmate who is currently enrolled in a required alternative to violence, academic or sex offender treatment program. It is as inaccurate to say prisons have program “waiting
lists” as it would be to argue that colleges have “waiting lists”
because there are no seats in senior classrooms for freshmen. q
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Prison Safety in New York

X. External scrutiny enhances transparency
o less an authority than the U.S. Supreme Court has
ruled that the general public has a limited right of access
to the nation’s prisons because of their need for internal security to safeguard staff and inmates alike.
The record shows, however, that New York has chosen to
make its prisons far more transparent than the minimum required by the nation’s highest tribunal.

N

The starting point for outside access is found in Correction
Law section 146. This provision of law identifies a number of
government officials who are authorized to visit all correctional
facilities at will and without notice. The list of officials includes, but is not limited to, all members of the Legislature, all
county and supreme court judges, the judges of New York’s
highest court, the Court of Appeals, and members of the State
Commission of Correction. Even pastors with congregations in
the prison community have such rights of access.
In New York there are a total of 212 members of the state
Senate and Assembly. Each and every one of these elected representatives is entitled to make an unscheduled visit at will to
any correctional facility. Furthermore, the Department’s protocols for visits by members of the Legislature allow for each
member’s aides to also
participate in any visit.

Inmates can use that free postage to communicate with:
• Any American federal, state or local government official, department or agency; any official of a nation,
state or tribe of which the inmate is a citizen, or the
Correctional Association of New York State, an inmate
lobbying organization.
• Any attorney, approved legal representative, representative employed or supervised by an attorney, or any legal services organization.
• Medical personnel such as physicians, dentists or hospitals.
Unless privileges are lost due to misbehavior, inmates also
have the right to place a telephone call to virtually any individual or entity willing to accept a collect call from them, provided
the number is listed on the inmate’s telephone registry.
State commission wields broad powers
The independent State Commission of Correction (SCOC)
has broad powers to not only visit state and local correctional
facilities and issue reports, but to also promulgate regulations
that establish minimum standards for the management and operation of such correctional facilities.

These regulations are found in
Chapter V of Title
9 of the New York
Code, Rules and
Regulations. They
cover such topics
as environmental
health and safety,
policies and procedures, prisoner personal hygiene,
maximum facility
capacity, sanitarequests for prison access have been approved during the past decade.
tion, chemical
District attorneys
agents, health services, academic education and library serand assistant district attorneys from all 62 counties in the state
vices.
have access to state prisons. Federal prosecutors, of course,
also have the prerogative of investigating any reports they reIf the Department wishes to exceed capacity within any of its
ceive alleging federal crimes or human rights violations comfacilities, it must first apply to the SCOC and obtain its permismitted in state prisons.
sion in the form of a variance. In the case of double-bunking at
Tax dollars pay for some inmate letters
certain medium-security facilities, the SCOC, in issuing its
Visits from any of those officials could result from letters
variance, will establish detailed reporting requirements as well
sent by inmates using taxpayer-financed postage. Federal court
as enhanced staffing requirements. (A copy of the SCOC’s
decisions mandate that the states provide inmates with postage
2005 variance allowing the Department to operate douto communicate in writing with certain people and entities.
ble-bunking for an additional one-year period appears as Attachment
G.)
It costs New York taxpayers $340,000 annually to provide
inmates with a weekly free postage allowance equivalent to five
Correction Law Article 3 deals exclusively with the powers,
domestic first-class, one ounce letters. They are considered
functions and duties of the SCOC. Its authority is originally deprivileged correspondence and therefore cannot be read by
rived from Article 17, Section 5 of the state constitution. In adprison staff except in exigent circumstances.
dition to the power of any member or employee of the SCOC to
In terms of the judiciary, there are approximately 460 judges
who are eligible to visit
correctional facilities
at will. In fact, one of
the rules of the Office
of Court Administration is that each judge
who sits in a criminal
term must visit a correctional facility at
Press tours the Monterey Shock Incarceration program. Eighty-five percent of media
least once each year.

Page 37

April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

“be granted access at any and all times to any correctional facility or part thereof,” they must also be granted access “to all
books, records, and data pertaining to any correctional facility
deemed necessary for carrying out the commission’s functions,
powers and duties.”
Among other things, the SCOC can close any correctional
facility which it determines to be unsafe or unsanitary or which
has failed to comply with its regulations.
The SCOC also has within it a medical review board. It is responsible for looking into the circumstances surrounding the
death of any inmate of a correctional facility. This board can
also order an autopsy on the body of any deceased inmate, even
if one has already been performed.
County Law section 674 requires the county coroner to perform an autopsy whenever there has been an inmate death. This
autopsy requirement is applicable in all circumstances, including those where the cause of death is completely devoid of any
question or suspicion. That would even include when an inmate
expires in an outside hospital after a long struggle with cancer.
However, state law allows autopsies to be waived in cases
where the family has a religious objection and there is no doubt
that the death is due to natural causes.
Pursuant to Correction Law section 16, the Department is
obligated to reimburse the local coroner’s office for all reasonable expenses related to the performance of an autopsy.
Extensive oversight by other state agencies
Another avenue of oversight into correctional operations in
New York state emanates from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC). In short, the Comptroller can review financial records to ensure taxpayer dollars are accounted for and expended in the manner proscribed by law.
The powers of the Comptroller are very broad and are set
forth in the state constitution as well as the State Finance Law.
The Comptroller has oversight over all fiscal concerns of the
state and may audit any account in which the state has an interest.
The Comptroller also operates and maintains, and may revise and modify, a state accounting and financial reporting system. OSC also has subpoena power to require any person to appear on any matter within the scope of an inquiry or investigation and to produce any relevant books or papers.
Throughout the years, the Comptroller’s Office has conducted numerous audits into many diverse aspects of prison operations. Some audits have been relatively narrow in scope,
while others have been extremely broad-based.
Some have focused on a single individual or correctional facility. A number have focused on the functions or actions of a
specific Central Office unit, while others were system-wide in
scope. The end result of the audit process is the generation of a
final report that is accessible to the general public, both on paper and from the Comptroller’s website.
Examples of OSC audits are those entitled: Inmate Application Systems Security Controls, Administration of Workers’
Compensation Laws, Contract with MCI WorldCom for the InApril 2006

mate Call Home Program, Contract with the Osborne Association: Billings for Job Placement Services (for inmates), Health
Care Services Provided to Inmates Outside of Correctional Facilities, Sing Sing Correctional Facility: Selected Payroll Practices, Industries Program, Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment Program, and Oversight of Statewide
Pharmacy Operations.
Another oversight entity that is empowered to look into potential wrongdoing is the Office of the State Inspector General
(OSIG). While the Department has an Inspector General whose
duties were discussed in Section IX of this report, the OSIG has
broader responsibilities and reports directly to the Governor.
The OSIG is charged with receiving and investigating complaints from any source concerning allegations of fraud, criminal activity, conflicts of interest or abuse in any covered agency,
which includes this Department. The OSIG can also determine
whether disciplinary action, civil or criminal prosecution or
further investigation by an appropriate federal, state or local
agency is warranted.
In fulfillment of its responsibilities, the OSIG has the power,
among other things, to subpoena and enforce the attendance of
witnesses, to administer oaths or affirmations and examine witnesses under oath, or to require the production of any books and
papers deemed relevant to any investigation. It can require any
Department employee to answer questions concerning any
matter related to the performance of official duties.
There are numerous other governmental entities that may
have occasion to make a site visit or inspection of a correctional
facility. For example, the Department of Labor may conduct an
investigation into an employee complaint alleging an unsafe
work condition. The state or a county health department can
make an inspection of the food service area. The Department of
Environmental Conservation can make a site inspection in connection with a spill of any alleged hazardous material. Local
fire departments can also review fire response plans.
All of these individuals and agencies also share one other
commonality: they can publicly release the results of their tours
or investigations without any clearance by – or even the knowledge of – this Department.
Prison gates open to outside review
Site visits and inspections are made in connection with the
Department’s commitment to the prison accreditation process.
As noted earlier, all of the Department’s facilities are accredited
by the American Correctional Association (ACA). Each facility must undergo the arduous review process by ACA auditors
once every three years during which time the facility is examined for compliance with a whole panoply of operational standards.
A similar process is applied for the mental health units within
correctional facilities that are operated by a separate state
agency, the Office of Mental Health. The entity conducting the
optional audits is the Chicago-based Joint Commission on Accreditation on Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).
Both the ACA and JCAHO can speak volumes by simply
withholding their accreditation of New York facilities. Instead,
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Prison Safety in New York

each has respectively found Departmental and OMH operations to meet their standards. It is not unusual for auditors to advise prison staff that their operations exceed standards.
Researchers, media welcome in prisons
There are also numerous other entities and individuals who
are afforded access to prisons and Departmental records as a
matter of discretion and sound public policy.
For example, it is Department policy to promote research in
the field of corrections and to support professional studies of
Departmental operations. Accordingly, research involving inmates, staff and Departmental operations is authorized and conducted in accordance with Department Directive 0403, entitled
“Research Studies and Surveys.” (A copy of that Directive appears as Attachment H.)
The Department also operates an Internet home page at
www.docs.state.ny.us. “Inmate Lookup” records 3.5 million
“hits” monthly from those seeking information on anyone who
has been in state prison since the early 1970s, unless a conviction was expunged by a court or sealed by law.

But the relevant Department directive provides that “it is the
policy of New York State to make its prisons accessible to media via prearranged facility tours and access to inmates and programs.” (A copy of Directive 0401, “Release of Information to
the News Media,” appears as Attachment I.)
Media interviews are arranged through the Public Information Office (PIO). But Directive 0401 makes clear that media
access does not require disclosure to the PIO of the subject of an
inmate interview or other prison story.

50
40
30
20

11.7
million

16.7
million

22.8
million

43.6
million

28.6
million

10
0
2001

2002

The site also provides 36
key Department directives, which detail operating procedures
and administrative regulations that apply across the prison system. Those directives include specifics on access to Departmental records, sex abuse prevention, inmate religious programs and practices, applying for medical parole, visiting inmates, inmate general and privileged correspondence, applying
for clemency, academic and vocational programs, Hispanic and
cultural affairs services, the outside volunteer program, correctional facility tours and how to mail or bring in packages intended for inmates. More Directives of interest to the public
will be added.
The Department’s Public Information Office also provides
an on-call person to respond to media inquiries during off-hours
including evenings, weekends and state holidays. It also maintains an Internet e-mail list to alert the media statewide or regionally of prison incidents, press releases and reports.
Another example of outside scrutiny is the considerable media access that the Department permits inside of prisons. The
Department supports media access even though the United
Page 39

There are states that cite court decisions to justify denying
media access to all inmates or to only offer for interviews those
inmates selected by prison officials. Some do not allow media
to bring cameras or tape recorders into their prisons. Others require media to show how an intended story advances prison
goals before they will approve coverage of programs or operations.

DOCS Inm ate Lookup "Hits"

Millions

The balance of the site records 350,000 “hits” each
month. It includes mailing
addresses and driving directions to each prison. It also
offers general information
on the agency, job openings
and upcoming Civil Service
examinations. It maintains a
list of Department research
documents available to the
public and a form to obtain
copies of them, as well as
copies of press releases and
agency publications (including this report and its attachments).

State Supreme Court has consistently ruled that there is no media right of access to prisons beyond the limited access afforded
the general public.

2003

2004

2005

terview, not to eavesdrop on it.

Media is allowed to bring
in and use the tools of the
trade – including audiotape
recorders as well as still and
video cameras – on prison
tours, while covering programs or during the interview of inmates selected by
the media.
To maintain the confidentiality of the interview,
security staff monitor interviews from a distance, often
from outside the open doorway into the interview
room. Staff are advised their
presence is to monitor security protocols during the in-

Even that longstanding policy cannot guarantee physical
safety. Murderer Kenneth Kimes took a freelance reporter hostage during an interview in October 2000 at Clinton Correctional Facility. In 1988, killer Willie Bosket was being interviewed in the visiting room of Shawangunk Correctional Facility when he bolted over a table and stabbed a Correction Officer.
Despite those incidents and court decisions allowing the Department to restrict media access, any general confinement inmate may be interviewed one-on-one for later use.
More than 2,100 media requests for prison access were received between 1995-2005. Of those, 85 percent were approved.
Virtually all of those disapprovals fell within these circumstances when a media interview request will automatically be
disapproved:
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

• requests for the “live” broadcast of interviews on radio
or television;
• requests for a third-party presence, such as the inmate’s attorney, family member or another inmate;
• requests for inmate press conferences, defined as the
simultaneous presence of more than one media outlet;
• requests for access onto a medical care unit;
• requests for interviews with inmates in disciplinary
status, or
• requests that are designed to help an inmate conduct an
outside business from inside prison.
CANYS afforded access to visit
The Correctional Association of New York State has statutory authorization to visit correctional facilities in New York.
The same law allowing them to visit prisons requires that any
reports it issues be submitted to the Legislature, not to the Department.
The Correctional Association is allowed to visit all areas of a
facility. The Correctional Association identifies to the Department those private citizens who comprise the membership of
both its visiting committee, which at any time consists of more
than 60 individuals, as well as its women in prison project.
These individuals, as well as the Correctional Association’s
board of directors and executive committee staff, can make site
visits to correctional facilities.

Courts demand FOIL transparency
Access to the inner workings of a prison is also accomplished by application of the Freedom of Information Law
(FOIL) which is set forth in Article 6 of the Public Officers
Law.
In enacting this law the Legislature declared that government is the public’s business and that the public, individually
and collectively and represented by a free press, should have
access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article. In applying this law, the courts have consistently ruled that FOIL itself is to be read liberally and its exceptions to be read narrowly.
This Department remains aggressive in meeting its responsibility under FOIL.
The Department’s Central Office responded to 2,376 written
FOIL inquiries last year – or roughly 10 each work day. That
does not include the FOIL requests filled by 69 prisons around
the state.
It also does not take into account the very limited cases in
which the Department’s Public Information Office requires the
media to provide written FOIL requests. If reports or data are
clearly disclosable under the law, no written request is usually
required.

Because of its limited role as an inmate lobbying organization, the Association’s mission is often at odds with that of the
Department, which bears the actual responsibility of safeguarding staff as well as inmates around the clock.

In general, written requests are only required if the requestor
is seeking a long list of data or documents. A written request is
also required if the requestor wants the Department to consider
creating a document. While FOIL does not require the creation
of any documents, the Department sometimes does so if it believes the result will be a document of legitimate and widespread public interest.

Twice in its February testimony before the self-appointed
Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, the Association highlighted fundamental differences between itself
and the Department:

The central tenet of FOIL is to afford access to existing
agency records unless some compelling reason, such as a threat
to safety or security, might justify the agency withholding or redacting the document.

• The Association asserted that this Department should
be required to respond in writing to its reports and to
explain how it will implement remedial plans where
needed.

As defined in FOIL, record means any information kept,
held, filed, produced or reproduced by, with, or for an agency or
the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions, folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets,
forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes.

• The Association prefaced its presentation by conceding it “realistically could not investigate (its statistical
data) to confirm their validity,” but was relying upon it
anyway to make sweeping generalizations about the
prison system and its operations.
First, it is not the Department’s concern that a bicameral Legislature chooses not to respond with one voice to Association
reports. It does, however, concern the Department that a lobbying group would even suggest that an agency of state government should be required to routinely spend tax dollars to respond to its agenda.
Secondly, the Association might find the Legislature, this
Department and others more responsive to its reports if the Association stood four-square behind the accuracy and credibility
of its data and findings, rather than publicly distancing itself
from them.
April 2006

Any person, including an inmate, can make a FOIL request.
So long as the request “reasonably describes” the sought-after
documents, the agency is then legally obligated to assemble all
of the responsive documents, regardless of the voluminous nature of the request, and then determine if they should be turned
over, or withheld in whole or in part.
The Department remains in compliance with two landmark
court decisions on FOIL – even though it believes the mandate
for transparency is onerous in one case, and the public disclosure mandated in the second could threaten prison safety.
The first case was the decision of New York’s highest tribunal, the Court of Appeals, in its 1986 Konigsberg v. Coughlin
decision. It opened the door to allowing bored inmates to make
Page 40

Prison Safety in New York

extensive requests for no other reason than to tie up staff time
and state resources.
Inmate Harold “Boom Boom” Konigsberg was serving a
sentence for murder stemming from his role as a loan shark and
a ruthless enforcer for organized crime.
He submitted a “fishing expedition” of a FOIL request in
which he sought “to inspect and review any and all files of records kept on me and my number of identification of the New
York State Department of Correctional Services which is identification number 71-A-0224.”
In response, the facility inmate records coordinator (IRC)
advised the inmate that he had to reasonably identify the documents sought, and that he could do this by closely tailoring his
request and stating the name of the document if known, or the
type of content, and the approximate date. The IRC also furnished him with the names of several folders that were “accessible” to him. Dissatisfied with this response, inmate Konigsberg
appealed the matter to New York’s highest court.
As part of the defense, the Department pointed out that more
than 2,300 pages of records had to be assembled, which were
estimated to comprise 95 percent of the records being sought.
Furthermore, it was noted that most of the facility’s inmate records contained material that was exempt from disclosure under FOIL and that it was necessary, in order to avoid oppressive
and disruptive administrative burdens and backlogs, that the
person handling the FOIL request know the specific records being sought.
Despite these formidable logistical complications, the Court
of Appeals agreed with the inmate’s contention that the records
had been “reasonably described.” In the court’s words, the description used by the inmate – “all files” – enabled the agency to
locate the records in question.
The second case involves a 1992 decision by the Appellate
Division, Third Department, in a case entitled Matter of Buffalo
Broadcasting Company Inc. v. N.Y.S. Department of Correctional Services.
A television station sought FOIL access to Departmental
videotapes of a major incident occurring in a disciplinary housing unit.
The Department’s policy is to restrict access to such units,
which are the most secure in any prison. The intent of the Department’s policy is to restrict the dissemination of information
on how security staff lawfully execute policies and procedures
in the event of a disturbance there.
The Department contended disclosure of the videotapes
would create concerns for the personal safety of inmates and
correctional personnel. In rejecting this contention, the court
ruled that the depictions sought to be withheld were of scenes
witnessed by the general inmate population and the techniques,
weapons and equipment used by Officers and officials as
shown on the tapes were not only observable by the inmates but
completely conventional in nature.
The Department also sought to withhold certain videotapes
of inmates on the basis of personal privacy violations. HowPage 41

ever, the court ruled that “an inmate in a state correctional facility has no legitimate expectation of privacy from any and all
public portrayal of his person in the facility.” Instead, only to
the extent that particular videotapes showed inmates undergoing strip frisks or other possible display of nudity, could such
tapes be withheld.
As this report makes clear, the Department makes abundant
use of both fixed and handheld videotaping system as a means
of monitoring certain areas within a facility and also to historically document and preserve significant events and incidents
that transpire therein.
The Department agrees that, for purposes of FOIL, a videotape should be treated as a record in the same manner as any
routine paper document. This means that videotapes that are
reasonably described may have to be reproduced if they fall
within the parameters for release under FOIL.
However, the Department believes this case falls into one of
the limited categories in which a FOIL exception should have
been granted. The Department believes, with all due respect to
the court, that jurists erred in ordering the release of footage detailing the Department’s security procedures and policies in response to a violent incident in a disciplinary housing unit.
Taxpayers fund extensive inmate law libraries
The courts have recognized a need to provide inmates with
access to certain out-of-prison resources unrestricted by the
taxpayers who must finance them.
That occurs, most notably, through the Department’s network of law libraries. (A copy of Department Directive 4483,
“Law Libraries, Inmate Legal Assistance and Notary Public
Services,” appears as Attachment J.)
In the landmark case of Bounds v. Smith, the United States
Supreme Court ruled that inmates have a constitutional right of
access to the courts. This right requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with either [1] adequate law libraries or [2] adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.
In New York, taxpayers have traditionally financed both.
The Department remains steadfast in its commitment to
maintain a strong and vibrant law library network. There are 93
law library collections of varying sizes, depending on the specific facility and the inmate population to be serviced.
Unquestionably, the caliber of New York’s collections
greatly exceeds the threshold established by Bounds. For example, in addition to standard criminal, penal and correctional
law volumes, the Department also includes family law titles
and immigration resources within its collections.
Nearly $2.5 million was spent in Fiscal 2005-06 to maintain
all the law libraries, including the updates of the law book and
periodical collections, and also the supply of pens, paper and
photocopying services.
In all maximum- and medium-security facilities, the collections are substantial and contain federal and state case law from
1960 forward.
They also include full sets of United States Code Annotated
April 2006

Prison Safety in New York

and McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York, plus West’s
Federal Forms and West’s McKinney’s Forms. In addition,
federal and state digests, Shepard’s Citations (federal and state)
and New York Jurisprudence help the inmate researcher in finding cases on point and ensure vital updating of these cases. Key
titles of New York Codes Rules and Regulations are among the
holdings and are especially useful to inmates who are pursuing
post-conviction remedies.
Also, legal research guides, self-help works such as A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual, treatises on criminal law including appellate practice, evidence, police misconduct and drug testing,
as well as legal writing guides,
provide invaluable tools to inmates who are preparing their
own legal papers. Finally, the
New York Law Journal and the
New York State Register are part
of the periodical holdings. (A
copy of a listing of the various
legal publications and collections which comprise the holdings of a maximum-security facility law library appears as Attachment K.)
The Department also maintains a relationship with the
New York state library in order
to augment prison collections.
Inmates are able to access legal
materials not held within a facility’s collection by plugging into
this resource entitled the Prisoner Services Project.

court that requires documents to be typewritten. The law libraries are also equipped with microfiche readers to facilitate inmate use of records and briefs and other resources sent in this
format by the state library. “Fill-in-the blank” legal forms are
available as well.
Taxpayers provide some inmate attorneys
Although the Department’s law library program is quite extensive, by no means is it the exclusive means by which inmates
can gain access to the judiciary. There are legal entities whose
sole purpose is to provide legal representation to indigent inmates. These legal groups are also supported, at least in part, by
taxpayer funding.
In New York the two principal legal organizations
which provide such services
are Prisoners’ Legal Services of New York and the
Prisoners’ Rights Project of
the Legal Aid Society.
There are also pro bono
panels of lawyers who make
themselves available to step
in and provide legal representation to indigent inmates
after a lawsuit is filed. This
is especially prevalent in all
of New York’s federal district court jurisdictions
where it is not uncommon
for many of New York’s
most prestigious law firms
to provide such representation.

Trained inmate law clerks are Taxpayers provide inmates with both extensive law libraries such as
Despite the fact these
integral to the operation of the the one shown here as well as attorneys for personal matters.
other legal avenues are
law library program, both to assist inmates in preparing their
available, New York has not in any way diminished its commitown legal papers and to maintain the law library collections. Inment to the maintenance of a strong law library collection and
mates must have earned a minimum of a GED to participate in
network.
the Department’s legal research course. Spanish-speaking inThis is notable because this commitment was forged in the
mates are encouraged to take the course to ensure that monolinwake
of the Bounds v. Smith decision many years ago. Since
gual Hispanic inmates are able to receive assistance from a
Bounds,
however, the Supreme Court issued a more recent
trained law clerk in their own language.
landmark decision called Lewis v. Casey. It provided clarificaAt the conclusion of the course, a standardized examination
tion and ruled that “Bounds does not guarantee inmates the
is administered, which is graded by a law librarian, who is also
wherewithal to transform themselves into litigating engines caan attorney. Inmates who pass this course then staff the Departpable of filing everything from shareholder derivative actions
ment’s law libraries and provide legal assistance services to
to slip and fall claims.”
their peers. Between 350 and 400 inmates earn legal research
Rather, “[the tools it requires to be provided are those that the
certificates each year.
inmates need in order to attack their sentences directly or collatThrough the law library program, inmates also have ready
erally, and in order to challenge the conditions of their confineaccess to important auxiliary services. These include notary
ment,” the court explained.
public services, plus the free pens, pencils, writing supplies and
Lewis also clarified that inmates must be afforded either acmodestly-priced photocopying services that courts also require
cess
to a law library or access to assistance from persons trained
states to provide.
in the law. Despite the fact that Lewis made clear that only one
Inmates who are able to visit the law libraries may type their
of the two is required, New York continues to provide both.
own documents. Inmate law clerks provide typing services for
Because they are so rare, inmates garner media attention
inmates who cannot type and are submitting legal papers to a
April 2006

Page 42

Prison Safety in New York

when they win financial awards or even Pyrrhic victories in the
courtroom. But as few as those wins are, the judicial record is
replete with thousands of instances where inmates filed frivolous or knowingly false actions. Those are among the reasons
why the federal courts now require inmates to exhaust their administrative remedies before filing lawsuits.
There are also cases where judges have ruled inmates filed
bogus actions in an attempt to coerce or blackmail the Department into giving them special or undeserved treatment.
One of the classic cases in that regard involved the infamous
“Long Island Lolita.” Amy Fisher was 17 in 1992 when she shot
her 30-something lover’s wife in the head. Fisher ultimately received a sentence of 3-1/2 to 10-1/2 years for first-degree assault. She was released in May 1999.
Before that, she filed an action in federal court accusing
Albion Correctional Facility employees of rape and other
Fourth, Fifth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment violations.
Federal Western District Judge Richard J. Arcara of Buffalo
wrote in his July 16, 1997, decision:
“The Court notes that it frequently receives requests
for injunctive relief from prison inmates, especially requests for transfers from one prison to another. The
majority of these requests are frivolous, and are resolved on the papers without a hearing. The Court held
a hearing in this case, however, because the allegations of rape and sexual abuse stated in the complaint
are extremely serious, and because plaintiff’s counsel
represented to the Court that plaintiff had substantial
corroborating proof to support their claims.
“Rape or sexual abuse of inmates by correction officers is abhorrent and cannot be tolerated or condoned.
Prison officials must be diligent in preventing such
misconduct and punishing those who transgress. Nevertheless, in this case, Fisher’s allegations of rape and
sexual abuse do not bear up under close scrutiny. Unfortunately, it appears that she and her mother are trying to manipulate the system by capitalizing on this
sensitive and important issue.
“Simply put, the Court finds Fisher’s allegations of
rape to be highly suspect and unsupported by the record currently before the Court. The evidence tends to
show that this lawsuit is part of a ‘plan’ by Fisher to
make false allegations against correction officers in
order to either obtain a transfer out of Albion to a facility closer to home, or to assist her somehow in obtaining parole.”
Federal scrutiny helps protect inmates
In addition to all of the other remedial avenues available to
inmates, the federal government can also intercede on their behalf under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act
(CRIPA).
This law authorizes the Attorney General of the United
States to conduct investigations and litigation regarding conditions of confinement in state or locally operated institutions.
Page 43

The Special Litigation Section of the Civil Rights Division
within the Department of Justice investigates covered facilities
to determine whether there is a pattern or practice of violations
of inmates’ federal rights. The Section was created in 1980.
According to the Justice Department’s CRIPA web site, the
Special Litigation Section has investigated more than 300 facilities in 39 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth
of Puerto Rico, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Territories of Guam and the Virgin Islands. It is
further noted that as a result of the CRIPA efforts of the Department of Justice, tens of thousands of institutionalized persons
who were living in dire, often life-threatening conditions, now
receive adequate care and services.
The official web site also explains that Section staff are involved in a broad array of activities that range from reviewing
complaints and conducting investigations to monitoring and
enforcing court orders, litigating large, complex institutional
reform cases, and writing amicus briefs on issues of national
import. In addition, Section staff work closely with nationally
renowned experts to evaluate institutional conditions by touring facilities, observing relevant practices and procedures at the
facilities, evaluating records, and interviewing residents, staff,
and other individuals knowledgeable about the conditions at
the institutions.
Furthermore, the web site notes that the Section has concentrated on obtaining widespread relief where possible. For example, the Section has entered into consent decrees covering 20
juvenile correctional facilities in Puerto Rico, 13 juvenile correctional facilities in Kentucky, 31 juvenile facilities in Georgia, all four mental retardation facilities in Virginia, eight men’s
prisons in Michigan, five women’s prisons in Arizona, two
women’s prisons in Michigan, and a number of jails throughout
Mississippi.
It also explains that the Section has filed a number of enforcement and civil contempt motions to require state officials
to comply with consent decrees and other court orders.
New York has been involved over the years in some CRIPA
investigations, including one that examined the delivery of
medical care at the Green Haven maximum-security prison.
However, New York has never been sued by the Justice Department or required to enter into a system-wide consent decree to
correct or address any systemic conditions.
In addition to CRIPA actions, for system’s such as New
York’s that also receive federal funding, jurisdiction is conferred upon the Office of Civil Rights within the Justice Department to investigate any inmate complaint that alleges discrimination on the basis of race, national origin or religion, or a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act
It is difficult to count or prosecute unreported crimes.
No less an authority than the U.S. Department of Justice
notes in its periodic Uniform Crime Report data of index crimes
that it only lists reported offenses across the nation. No one, of
course, has the means to quantify unreported crime.
This Department is compelled to follow where the U.S. DeApril 2006

Prison Safety in New York

partment of Justice leads. This report notes that the Department’s Inspector General last year investigated more than 165
reports of staff-on-inmate sex offenses and 27 cases of inmate-on-inmate sex offenses. There will be those who assail
these numbers as being under-representative of what they believe occurs behind prison walls and fences. It is left to the skeptics to reveal their standard for citing and then documenting any
incidents beyond those reported.
For its part, as detailed under
“No tolerance for sexual abuse”
in Section IX of this report, the
Department has proposed legislation that would hold employees
accountable for failing to report
incidents of improper conduct between staff and inmates. Another
bill would expand the current law
criminalizing sexual relations between inmates and certain staff to
criminalize such conduct by any
employee.

stantial burden on the religious exercise of a person residing in
or confined in an institution unless the government demonstrates that imposition of the burden [1] is in furtherance of a
compelling governmental interest, and [2] is the least restrictive
means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
In essence, RLUIPA affords claimed inmate religious practices extraordinary protections against day-to-day security protocols. It also places inmates in a special category that is not extended to everyday citizens.
Prior to RLUIPA, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled in Turner v Safley that
when a prison regulation impinges upon an inmate’s constitutional rights, the regulation is
valid if it is reasonably related
to legitimate penalogical interests.
Under that standard, the Department enforced a one-inch
beard rule because of its security need to ensure that inmates
could not conceal within them
such contraband as drugs or razor blades.

The Department is also using
the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 to initiate new
tools to combat sexual violence in
prison. It is advising inmates of
By contrast, the new
the existence of that law in an iniRLUIPA
standard significantly
tiative that includes step-by-step
raises
the
bar. Its sets a new test
directions urging the victims of
for
determining
whether govattempted or actual sex abuse to
ernmental
action
affecting
report it.
Courts require inmates, even while in disciplinary housing, be
claimed
religious
beliefs
will
The Department determined able to maintain contact with the outside world via material be upheld or invalidated.
that the orientation manual at ev- from both law and general libraries.
Under RLUIPA, the Departery facility, not just at reception centers, should contain a dement
must
implement
a
standard
that
compels only the least intailed chapter on the prevention of sex abuse.
trusive action by inmates to gain compliance with prison goals
The chapter presents a clear warning to all inmates and staff
that conflict with their religious observances.
that such conduct will not be tolerated and will result in crimiFor example, the Department can no longer enforce its
nal prosecution. This chapter explains in both English and
one-inch beard rule.
Spanish the Department’s basic policy, defines sexual abuse,
gives instruction on what to do if another person threatens the
Under RLUIPA, the Department is required to allow any ininmate, suggests practical steps to protect oneself, and lists the
mate to grow his beard in excess of one inch in length if the insteps to be taken to report any incidents that do occur. (A copy
mate professes membership in a religion that requires it, such as
of this chapter appears as Attachment L.)
Muslims, Jews and Rastafarians.
At the same time, the Department also promulgated a numThat’s because under RLUIPA, the court argues that the Deber of new directives to formalize what had been long-standing
partment can order inmates to comb through their longer beards
Department policy and procedure. They include Department
to show they are not concealing contraband. Thus, allowing the
Directive 4027A, “Sexual Abuse Prevention & Intervention search rather than trimming a beard becomes the
Inmate-on-Inmate,” and Directive 4028A, “Sexual Abuse Preleast-compelling means for inmates to exercise their religious
vention & Intervention - Staff-on-Inmate.” (A copy of each aprights while still complying with the Department’s security
pears respectively as Attachment M and Attachment N.)
need to interdict contraband.
Congressional action complicates prison security
The court took no judicial notice of the fact its ruling would
It is a rare event for the U.S. Congress to pass a special law
require all Officers to carry, use and then constantly clean
that only affects inmates. Yet that is precisely what it did in Sepcombs to the detriment of performing their other security dutember of 2000 when it enacted the Religious Land Use and Inties. It also did not address the fact that inmates can claim memstitutionalized Personas Act (RLUIPA).
bership in such religions to simply avoid trimming their beards
as all other inmates must. q
This law sets forth that “No government shall impose a subApril 2006

Page 44

Attachments
A

Commissioner’s letter to employees dated May 12, 2004

B

Merit Time Directive 4790

C

Map locating correctional facilities dated October 2002

D

Progressive Inmate Movement System dated May 1, 2001

E

Standardized Discretionary Review Procedures – SHU dated Aug. 26, 2003

F

Criminal Prosecution of Inmates Directive 6910

G

State Commission of Correction double-bunking variance dated Aug. 24, 2005

H

Research Directive 0403

I

Media Directive 0401

J

Law libraries, Inmate Legal Assistance and Notary Public Services Directive 4483

K

DOCS maximum-security law library holdings dated Feb. 17, 2006

L

Orientation module for the prevention of sexual abuse in prison dated June 15, 2005

M

Sexual abuse prevention & intervention: Inmate-on-Inmate Directive 4027A

N

Sexual abuse prevention & intervention: Staff-on-Inmate Directive 4028A

For additional copies of this report, contact:
Office of the Commissioner
New York State Department of Correctional Services
1220 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12226-2050

 

 

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