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State of the Prisons Conditions of Confinement in Ny 2002

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Conditions of Confinement
in 25 New York Correctional Facilities

A Report by the Prison Visiting Committee
of The Correctional Association of New York

June 2002

Board of Directors
Le Roy Davis
William J. Dean
Lourdes Falco
Nereida L. Ferran, M.D.
Leroy Frazer, Jr.
Richard Girgenti
Peter Glusker
Ricky Jones
Ann E. Lewis
Prof. Michael B. Mushlin
William O’Boyle
Elizabeth E. Osborne
Frederik R-L. Osborne
Lithgow Osborne
John S. Prescott, Jr.
Hon. Felice K. Shea
Jane Sommerich
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Willam J. vanden Heuvel
Basil Wilson
Rev. Alfonso Wyatt

Clay Hiles
Vice Chairpersons
Ralph S. Brown, Jr.
Elizabeth B. Hubbard
James D. Silbert
Joan S. Steinberg
Peter Swords
Seymour W. James, Jr.
Catherine M. Abate
Gail Allen, M.D.
John M. Brickman
Wilhelmus B. Bryan III
Constance P. Carden
Gregory L. Curtner
The Correctional Association of New York
Robert Gangi
Executive Director

Mishi Faruqee
Juvenile Justice Project

Susan Gabriel
Director of Development

Juile F. Kowitz
Women in Prison

Jennifer R.Wynn
Prison Visiting Project

Laura A. Davidson
Office Manager

135 East 15th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-5700/Phone
(212) 473-2807/Fax
Copyright © 2002, The Correctional Association of New York
All Rights Reserved


The Correctional Association of New York

In 1844, a group of leading New York City citizens concerned about inhumane
conditions in the prisons and jails convened the first meeting of the Correctional
Association of New York. Two years later, the Association received state legislative
authority to visit prisons and report its findings to policymakers and the public. This
special legislative authority remains in place 156 years later, allowing the Association to
observe, first-hand, conditions inside the walls.
The Prison Visiting Committee is the arm of the Correctional Association that
visits prisons throughout the state and advocates for policies that will better serve
inmates, correction staff and society at large. Currently chaired by Ralph S. Brown, Jr.,
the Correctional Association’s Prison Visiting Committee includes lawyers, physicians,
ex-offenders who have completed parole supervision, criminal justice experts, concerned
citizens and board members of the Correctional Association.
The Prison Visiting Committee visits New York State correctional facilities on a
regular basis, and this report relates to visits to 25 correctional facilities conducted
between March 1998 and October 2001. Jennifer R. Wynn, Director of the Prison
Visiting Project, served as principal author of this report. Board Chair Clay Hiles, Board
Members Ralph S. Brown, Jr., Wilhelmus B. Bryan III, and the late Carol Bernstein Ferry
served as principal editors. Executive Director Robert Gangi guided the undertaking from
conception to completion.
Members of the Prison Visiting Committee volunteer many hours and days of
their time traveling to prisons across the state, interviewing inmates and staff, and
providing their insights for this report. In this regard, Visiting Committee members
Heather Barr, Safiya Bandele, Philip Johnson and Romeo Sanchez deserve special
acknowledgement for their contributions.
The Correctional Association thanks Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner of the New
York State Department of Correctional Services; Edward McSweeney, Executive
Assistant to the Commissioner; Anthony J. Annucci, Deputy Commissioner and Counsel;
and Lester Wright, M.D., Associate Commissioner, for their cooperation and attention to
matters we bring to them. We thank William Gonzalez, Deputy Counsel, for his
efficiency and graciousness in arranging prison visits. Our deep appreciation goes to the
many men and women confined in state prisons and the Superintendents, Deputy
Superintendents, correction officers and civilian staff who gave the Visiting Committee
the benefit of their experience and wisdom from the inside.
The work of the Prison Visiting Project is made possible through the generous
support of the Irene Diamond Fund, The New York Community Trust, Pfizer Inc., the
Pforzheimer Foundation, the Prospect Hill Foundation and individual concerned




INTRODUCTION.................................................................................................... 6
1. Methodology: Prison Visits and Issue-Specific Research................................... 7
2. Overview: The New York State Prison System .................................................. 8

II. PROBLEMS and AREAS FOR REFORM .............................................................11
1. Program Cuts and Inmate Idleness .....................................................................11
2. Sweeping Expansion of Disciplinary Confinement.............................................12
3. Prevalence of Inmates with Mental Illness in Disciplinary Confinement ............16
4. Insufficient Substance Abuse Treatment ............................................................18
5. Unchecked Staff Misconduct .............................................................................19
6. Uneven Medical Care.........................................................................................21
7. Low Morale Among Correction Officers............................................................23
8. Fewer Parole Releases for People Convicted of Violent Offenses.......................24

III. RECOMMENDATIONS .........................................................................................25
1. Downsize the Prison System ..............................................................................25
2. Expand Vocational, Educational and Substance Abuse Treatment Programs ......26
3. Reconfigure Special Housing Units....................................................................26
4. Expand Services for Inmates with Mental Illness ...............................................28
5. Monitor and Address Staff Misconduct ..............................................................28
6. Increase Oversight of Medical Services..............................................................29
7. Raise Correction Officer Morale ........................................................................30
8. Improve Inmate-Staff Relations .........................................................................31



PRISON REPORTS ...........................................................................................32
Date Visited

Correctional Facility

ALBION...................................................... July 17, 2001 ....................................32
ATTICA ...................................................... May 18, 2000 ...................................36
AUBURN .................................................... November 16, 1999 ..........................42
BEACON .................................................... September 25, 1998 ..........................48
CLINTON ................................................... June 22, 2001 ...................................52
COLLINS .................................................... October 19, 2000 ..............................59
COXSACKIE .............................................. April 29, 1998 ..................................65
DOWNSTATE ............................................ March 31, 1998 ................................69
EASTERN................................................... June 29, 1998 ...................................73
ELMIRA ..................................................... April 24, 2001 ..................................77
FISHKILL ................................................... March 22, 2001 ................................82
GOWANDA................................................ October 18, 2000 ..............................86
GREAT MEADOW..................................... September 20, 2000 ..........................91
MARCY ...................................................... May 29, 1998 ...................................96
MID-ORANGE ........................................... January 19, 2000...............................101
QUEENSBORO .......................................... February 23, 2000.............................105
SHAWANGUNK ........................................ November 15, 2000 ..........................110
SING SING ................................................. June 27, 2000 ...................................116
SOUTHPORT.............................................. April 25, 2001 ..................................121
TACONIC ................................................... July 26, 2000 ....................................128
ULSTER...................................................... December 21, 1999...........................131
UPSTATE ................................................... January 17, 2001...............................135
WASHINGTON .......................................... September 21, 2000 ..........................143
WENDE ...................................................... May 19, 2000 ...................................149
WILLARD .................................................. October 18, 2001 ..............................154
GLOSSARY ............................................... .........................................................160





risons are essentially closed institutions. To all but the state employees who
work in them, the prisoners confined in them and the officials who are
permitted access, prisons are generally hidden from public view. Under special authority
extended to the Correctional Association since 1846, members of its Prison Visiting
Committee can enter prisons, interview inmates and staff, and communicate their
findings and recommendations to state policymakers and the public. While the
Correctional Association does not have authority to mandate change, it uses its
knowledge of prison operations to advocate for reform to those who do have that
This document is based on observations of the Correctional Association’s Prison
Visiting Committee from visits to 25 New York State correctional facilities conducted
between March 1998 and October 2001. Part One presents key problems and areas for
reform based on conversations with hundreds of inmates and correctional staff. Part Two
presents reports from 25 prison visits1. The report discusses a number of model programs
and efforts, several of which are mentioned here and/or described in the individual prison

Youth Assistance Programs in which inmates and correction staff volunteer as
counselors to at-risk youth from the community;
The “Puppies Behind Bars” program, where inmates train puppies to become
seeing-eye dogs;
The piloting of an in-cell substance abuse treatment program for inmates in
disciplinary confinement;
Mandatory academic programming for inmates who read and/or have a math
score below the ninth-grade level;
Parenting programs featuring structured groups and parenting education
Family visitor centers at 36 facilities to provide inmate family members with a
place to refresh themselves prior to entering the prison;
The installation of Automatic Electronic Defibrillators in every state
correctional facility;
Aggression Replacement Therapy provided by trained inmate facilitators to
help prisoners identify and control aggressive behavior; and
Earned Eligibility and Merit Time programs, which reward certain nonviolent
offenders who meet various program requirements with the possibility of early


Readers should bear in mind that some specific practices, personnel and conditions of confinement may
have changed since the time of the visit.

1. Methodology: Prison Inspections and Issue-Specific Research
The Correctional Association’s prison visits take the form of field research: fullday, on-site assessments during which committee members, typically five to eight on
each visit, branch out to all corners of the prison, including cellblocks and dormitories,
the “yard,” the clinic, classrooms, and program areas. In Special Housing Units (SHUs),
separate cellblocks where inmates who have been judged disciplinary problems are
locked down 23 or 24 hours a day, committee members interview inmates through food
slots in thick metal doors or through the cell bars. We meet with the Superintendent and
Deputy Superintendents, the Inmate Liaison Committee (a leadership group elected to
represent the concerns of prisoners), correction officers, physicians, nurses, teachers and
mental health staff. We speak informally with prisoners over lunch in the mess hall, in
cellblocks, classrooms, the yard and infirmary beds, documenting their views, both
positive and negative, of the facility and staff.
At the end of the day, we meet with the prison’s executive team and present our
observations and feedback from inmates, correctional and civilian staff. The meetings are
generally constructive and informative exchanges; some common ground is often
achieved. At times sharp differences arise and remain unresolved. Nevertheless, most
Superintendents seem to value feedback from outside observers, particularly those
observers who visit prisons regularly and present their observations in a comparative
context. Some Superintendents are willing to work on problems and find solutions; others
are more bound to the status quo, even in the face of serious problems. Many cite their
lack of authority or resources to make changes.
After each visit, we write a report of findings and recommendations, which we
send to the Superintendent, the Commissioner of the Department of Correctional
Services, his Deputy Commissioner and Counsel, DOCS chief medical officer, the
Commissioner of the New York State Office of Mental Health (where applicable) and
relevant state legislators. We then begin the challenging work of advocating for both
facility-specific and system-wide reform.
The Prison Visiting Project also conducts research on key prison issues.
Throughout 1998 and 1999, the Project investigated inmate health care and in February
2000 published a comprehensive report, Health Care in New York State Prisons, based
on interviews with over 1,300 inmates and 100 prison health care providers.
Concurrently, the Project examined conditions in Special Housing Units, collected data
from the Department and interviewed approximately 200 inmates in disciplinary
lockdown for a report to be published in summer 2002. The Project currently focuses on
correctional mental health care and how the state prison system addresses the needs of the
growing number of inmates with serious mental illness. An advisory board comprised of
clinicians and experts in the field guides this research effort. A report of findings and
recommendations is scheduled for publication in spring 2003.


2. Overview: The New York State Prison System
The New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) operates 70
prisons throughout the state. In March 2002, there were 67,114 inmates under custody. In
fiscal year 2000-2001, the operating budget for the state prison system was $2.25 billion.
Men constitute 95% of prisoners. Blacks and Hispanics account for approximately 80%
of the inmate population, although they represent just 31% of the state population.2
Almost 65% of state inmates come from and will return to New York City.
The responsibility of providing for the safe and humane confinement of some
67,000 inmates is a task of staggering proportions. The sheer size of the inmate
population is compounded by the needs of the men and women incarcerated in New York
State prisons. For example:

14% of incoming female prisoners and 5% of incoming males are infected
with HIV;
23% of incoming female inmates and 14% of incoming males have hepatitis
75% of inmates are self-reported substance abusers;
11% of inmates have been diagnosed as “significantly, seriously or
persistently mentally ill”; and
Over 50% lack a high school diploma or equivalent degree.

The average time served in New York State correctional facilities is 43 months.
Slightly over one-third (35%) of the inmates under custody in 2001 had served a prior
prison term. Almost one-third (30%) of inmates were committed for drug offenses; 18%
for robbery and 10% for murder.
One of the most significant recent trends in the New York prison system is the
substantial drop in the inmate population. After thirty years of unprecedented growth, the
number of state prisoners is beginning to decline. Between December 1999 and
December 2001, the prisoner population declined from 71,466 inmates to 67,500. State
officials project that the population will drop to roughly 64,400 inmates by the end of
2003, a 9% decrease over three years.


U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population Reports 2000.


Inmates Under Custody At End of Calendar Year 1971 – 2001
December 31

Inmate Population
12, 525
12, 444
13, 437
14, 386
16, 074
17, 752
19, 408
20, 187
20, 855
21, 929
25, 921
28, 499
30, 951
33, 809
35, 141

December 31

Inmate Population
38, 647
40, 842
44, 560
51, 232
54, 895
57, 862
61, 736
64, 569
66, 750
68, 185
69, 647
69, 108
70, 044
71, 466
70, 112
67, 500

The decline is due to several factors: a decrease in felony indictments in New
York City, resulting in fewer inmates sentenced to state prison; an increase in parole
releases of nonviolent offenders; and the introduction of programs, limited to certain
nonviolent offenders, which allow them to earn early release. These programs include:

Shock Incarceration, a six-month boot camp recently made available to more
inmates by raising the maximum age limit for participation from 34 to 39;


Merit Time, which allows certain nonviolent inmates to earn a one-sixth
reduction in their minimum sentence by completing various programs and
maintaining a good disciplinary record; and


The Willard Drug Treatment Campus, where inmates convicted of drug
offenses are sent for three months of intensive substance abuse treatment in
lieu of a longer stay in a general confinement prison.

Department officials estimate that the decline will save the state $50 million in
prison costs in fiscal year 2002. The $50 million would come from phasing out 2,423
beds in 14 medium-security prisons where inmates are now double-bunked. Eliminating
cramped, double-bunked housing areas is a positive development. The positions of 600
correction officers at those prisons would be phased out through a hiring freeze, transfers
and attrition. The Department maintains that no staff will be laid off as a result of the
population decrease.



undamentally, the prison system operates in a decentralized fashion: practices
and operations vary widely from one facility to the next, depending on such
factors as a prison’s size, budget and security level, as well as the management style of
the Superintendent. It is notable to us that each prison we visit tends to have its own
distinct culture, and that traditions and practices are reinforced over time, which lend to
the facility a certain status or reputation. Eastern Correctional Facility, for example, has
long been known by inmates and staff as an “honor jail.” It has a tradition of innovative
programming, enlightened leadership and cooperative relations between inmates and
correction officers (COs). On the other hand, Great Meadow Correctional Facility, a
similarly large, maximum-security prison, is known as a “disciplinary jail.” It has few
programs and comparatively tense relations between inmates and staff.
Another example of this variation is found in two neighboring prisons in the
western region of the state, Gowanda and Collins Correctional Facilities. Although both
are medium-security prisons for men located across the road from each other, their
cultures are worlds apart. At Collins, inmates and staff refer to the prison as a “campus.”
The atmosphere is markedly peaceful; prisoners and staff reported few complaints when
we visited. Everyone seemed invested in keeping the prison safe and calm. At Gowanda
Correctional Facility, however, we received numerous reports from inmates, attorneys
and family members before, during and after the visit about serious correction officer
misconduct. Letters and phone calls about inmate abuse pointed to an unspoken policy of
“might makes right,” which appeared largely ignored by a detached administration. In
explaining the different attitudes and styles among staff, correction officers at Collins
said that security staff tends to seek positions at prisons where the culture supports their
style of management.
In any prison, there is an inevitable and not surprising level of tension between
inmates and staff. Race heightens this tension. Less than 5 percent of state correction
officers are black or Hispanic, compared to 80 percent of state inmates. Racial issues are
bound to arise in the face of such imbalance. Stereotypes are perpetuated and resentments
are solidified on both sides. White officers from rural, homogeneous communities know
blacks and Hispanics mainly as the criminals locked up in their local prison. Their
unfamiliarity with the backgrounds and culture of inner-city dwellers contributes to their
unease around prisoners.
Despite variations among prisons and staff, there is a core set of grievances raised
by inmates, COs and prison administrators at most of the facilities we visit. Inmate
grievances typically focus on staff misconduct, poor medical care, mishandling of
packages, lack of programs, denial of parole, and hostile treatment of their visitors.
Among correction officers, the threat of physical injury, the prevalence of weapons,
drugs and gangs, the growing number of inmates with mental illness in the prison system
and insufficient compensation are most often cited. Prison administrators report that
program cuts and inmate idleness, the prevalence of weapons, drugs and gangs, the
handling of inmates with mental illness, and staffing shortages in medical clinics present
the greatest challenges to prison management.




1. Program Cuts and Inmate Idleness


n most maximum-security prisons and some medium-security facilities,
Superintendents, correction officers and inmates cite program cuts and idleness
as the leading problems in their facilities. Security staff say that fewer vocational and
academic classes, and a reduction in drug treatment programs, have resulted in inmate
idleness, violence and frustration. Between 1991 and 1998, the state cut over 1,200
program service positions. During that time, the prison population grew from about
56,000 inmates to over 70,000. While the Department reports that education staff
positions increased by 9 percent between 1995 and 1999 (compared to a 4 percent
increase in the inmate population during that time), the steep staff reductions in program
positions (particularly vocational instructors, librarians and counselors) during the early
and mid-1990s have had a corrosive and lasting effect.
At Great Meadow Correctional Facility, for example, a maximum-security prison
for 1,680 men, vocational programs were slashed from 17 in 1990 to 6 in the year 2000.
Approximately half of the inmates, about 800 men, were not enrolled in either vocational
or academic programs when we visited in the fall of 2000. Over 125 inmates were on the
waiting list to enter GED prep classes. The prison library has been closed for over a year
because of budget cuts.
Similarly, at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, where the average prison
sentence is 24 years, correction officers cited “more academic programs for inmates”
when we asked what would make their jobs easier. “An educated inmate is less likely to
get into fights…he knows how to communicate,” one officer said. Another correction
officer commented on the surplus of inmate porters, an indicator of widespread idleness.
“The only way we can occupy their time is to have them mop floors. I have one crew
mop the hallway before lunch and another crew mop the same hallway after lunch. It’s
On a positive note, the Department reports that the number of GEDs earned by
inmates increased 14 percent between 1995 and 1999. This increase is largely due to a
new requirement that makes academic programming mandatory for inmates who read
and/or test below the ninth-grade level on a standardized achievement test.
Unfortunately, for inmates who already possess a high school diploma or
equivalency degree, there are few opportunities for additional education. In 1995, the
state eliminated prison inmates from among the indigents who are eligible to receive state
Tuition Assistance Program funds for college education, shortly after the same decision
was made on federal Pell grants by the President and Congress.3 Although the

NYS Department of Correctional Services, Commissioner’s Policy Paper on Prison Safety and Inmate
Programming, November 2000 (Albany, NY).

Department notes that only 5 percent of the inmate population participated in college
programs, that figure still represents approximately 3,500 individuals.
Scores of studies, including research conducted by DOCS, show that prisoners
who earn college degrees are far less likely to return to a life of crime after release:
Inmate College Program participants in 1986-1987 who had earned a
degree were found to return at a significantly lower rate than
participants who did not earn a degree. Of those earning a degree,
26% had been returned to the Department’s custody by February 29,
1991, whereas 45% of those participants who did not earn a degree
were returned to custody.4
2. Sweeping Expansion of Disciplinary Confinement


n New York State, there are three types of disciplinary housing: 1). “keeplock,”
where inmates are confined to their cells or to a special keeplock area in the
prison, typically for thirty days or less; 2). longer-term solitary confinement in a prison’s
Special Housing Unit (SHU), located in a separate area of the prison or in a freestanding
building; and 3). supermax housing in fully-automated, freestanding, high-tech control
Although the New York State Department of Correctional Services resists the
term “supermax” to define the latter form of disciplinary housing, this report uses the
term because, with the exception of the types of charges that result in confinement in
these units, the term matches the definition provided by the U.S. Department of Justice,
which describes a supermax prison as:
“a highly restrictive, high-custody housing unit within a secure
facility, or an entire secure facility, that isolates inmates from the
general prison population and from each other . . .”5
Currently, New York has eleven supermax prisons: nine freestanding units known
as SHU-200s (or S-Blocks) for the two hundred prisoners they house, two men to a cell;
Upstate Correctional Facility, a massive supermax near the Canadian border for 1,500
inmates, also confined two to a cell; and Southport Correctional Facility, the state’s first
supermax prison, housing 780 single-celled inmates.
Ten of the eleven supermaxes were constructed between 1998 and 2000. Each of
the nine SHU-200s was constructed at a cost of over $12 million a piece. Upstate’s
construction costs alone totaled $180 million.


NYS Department of Correctional Services, Analysis of Return Rates of the Inmate College Program
Participants, August 1991 (Albany, NY).
U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections. Supermax Prisons: Overview and General
Considerations, by Chase Riveland. January 1999.

The primary reason for building these expensive units, say Department officials,
was insufficient space in maximum-security prisons to handle disruptive inmates. The
tremendous cost of high-security housing—$50,000 per inmate per year versus $32,000
in lower-security housing6—is hardly a cost-effective arrangement. Moreover, despite
officials’ claims of the need for more disciplinary housing, most of the new, supermax
units the Correctional Association visits are operating under capacity.
In his 2003 budget, the Governor proposed closing the Special Housing Units in
ten medium-security prisons. These units house in single cells mainly those inmates with
SHU sentences of 90 days or less. With the closing of these units, inmates who would
have done short-term, single-cell SHU time will likely be transferred to an expensive,
supermax facility, where they will be housed in more restrictive conditions and with a
cellmate 24 hours a day.
In these fully automated facilities, all movement is monitored by video
surveillance and assisted by electronic door systems. Special alarms, cameras and
security devices abound. Conditions include 23-hour lockup, solitary confinement or
double-celling, and limited or no access to educational or vocational programs, phone
calls and congregate activities. Meals are eaten in the cell and served through “feed-up”
slots in thick metal doors. Visits with family and friends are conducted behind Plexiglas
or mesh-wire barriers and limited to one, four-hour visit per week. During inmates’ first
month in lockdown, they are mechanically restrained (handcuffed in the front with their
wrists attached to waist chains) during all out-of-cell movement. They remain handcuffed
throughout visits and during recreation for the first 30 days.
In supermax prisons with double-bunked housing, the cells measure 105 square
feet, the size of a large bathroom, and are shared by two men 24 hours a day. Each cell
contains two beds, a desk, a shower, a sink and toilet. Prisoners sleep, eat, shower and use
the toilet in the cells. They must turn sideways to pass each other in the narrow space
between the walls. “Recreation” consists of one hour in an empty cage attached to the
outside of the cell. Correction officials do not permit balls, weights or any exercise
equipment. Aside from a “cell study” program limited to inmates who lack a GED or
high school diploma and who have maintained a good disciplinary record, there are
virtually no programs for prisoners in disciplinary confinement.7 Behind the thick metal
doors of their cells, many inmates spend most of the time sleeping, as there is little
natural light, little to do and no way to tell time.
A look at the charges that result in disciplinary confinement reveal that not every
cell is used to house inmates who have exhibited seriously disruptive behavior. As the
following chart based on Department figures indicates, over 950 prisoners were in
disciplinary lockdown in November 2000 for the offense of participating in a disturbance

A nationally cited figure.
Recently, the Department initiated a self-administered ASAT program for a limited number of SHU
inmates. Participants receive workbooks and written or verbal feedback from counselors as they progress
through the program.



or demonstration. Nearly 500 were there for drug use. Another 174 inmates were put in
lockdown for refusing to obey an order.
Offenses by Number of Inmates Housed in SHUs or Keeplock on November 16, 2000
Contraband: drug use
Contraband: weapon
Assault on inmates
Assaults on staff
Refusal to obey orders
Contraband: drug possession
Contraband: other
Interfering with employees
Unauthorized organization
Sex offenses
Penal law offenses
All other offenses



At the end of 2001, there were 5,257 inmates in disciplinary housing (keeplock,
SHUs, and supermaxes), approximately 8 percent of the prison population. This number
represents a high rate for any prison system and raises the question of whether
disciplinary confinement in New York is an indication of poor prison management.
While inmates in New York know the length of their sentences in disciplinary
housing (inmates in some other jurisdictions do not), there is no limit to the length of the
sentence. According to the Department, the average sentence for disciplinary
confinement is 193 days; the average time served is 169 days.8 In 2000, over 2,500
prisoners spent more than six months in disciplinary confinement; nearly 2,000 were
there longer than a year. Approximately 500 inmates will spend more than three years in
“the hole,” as prisoners call disciplinary confinement. Some individuals are sentenced to
a decade or more.
Several of these long-termers are housed in dark, single-occupancy cells in the
SHU at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, which we visited in November 2000. Prison
officials told us they were concerned about a phenomenon they referred to as “toxic SHU
syndrome,” the psychological effects of years in isolation. A Prison Visiting Committee
member spoke with inmates who were sentenced to solitary confinement until the year
2004, the year 2012, the year 2014. Some inmates had been charged with drug or weapon
possession, others with more serious offenses such as assaults on inmates or staff.

NYS Department of Correctional Services, Commissioner’s Policy Paper on Prison Safety and Inmate
Programming, November 2000 (Albany, NY).

Mirroring trends in the outside world, where policymakers seek to reduce crime
by building prisons, correction officials have built prisons within prisons to cope with the
problem of crime inside prison. When speaking of the benefits of these units, Department
officials point to the decrease in prison violence. Since 1995, recorded inmate assaults on
staff declined by 31%. However, incidents of disruptive behavior and self-harm rose,
respectively, by 32% and 40%, according to a recent study by the Poughkeepsie Journal.9
On a recent visit to Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for
1,800 inmates, correction officers and inmates alike complained that the level of violence
and tension actually increased as a result of inmates returning from SHU-200s to the
general population. They said that the influx of angry, violence-prone inmates has
disrupted prison operations. It was clear that, at least in some cases, disciplinary
confinement had done little to improve behavior.
Obviously, removing assaultive inmates from the general population will have a
positive effect on prison violence, at least temporarily. However, the expanded use of
disciplinary confinement raises the question of whether simply removing these prisoners
from general population, without providing programs and services that address their
attitudes and behavior, can possibly prove effective in the long run. The effects of being
confined in a prison cell with another man 24 hours a day have yet to be studied, but the
increases in disruptive behavior and self-harm are not a good sign. If anything, they are
indicators of inevitable antisocial behavior by idle and embittered prisoners, who are
serving long sentences with little hope for parole and minimal incentive for good
Unlike some countries and other states, New York does not routinely transfer
inmates to “step-down” facilities before their release date to help them re-acclimate to
life in society. An inmate who completes his prison sentence while housed in the SHU
can be released directly to the outside world. At Upstate Correctional Facility, which we
visited in January 2001, 15 inmates had been released the month before. At Southport
Correctional Facility, another supermax prison, inmates deemed too violent to walk the
prison corridors unshackled are routinely escorted in handcuffs and waist chains on the
day of their release right out the front gate. A Southport correction officer told us that he
would sometimes violate policy and walk the inmates unshackled through the corridors
on the day of their release. “If the guy’s going to stab someone, I’d rather it be me than
the first person he bumps into at the Elmira bus station,” he said.
An ex-inmate who spent two years in a SHU-200 for drug use told the
Correctional Association in a January 2001 interview:
It is hard for people on the outside to understand the absolute
despondency that begins to invade your spirit after being confined in a
cage like an animal, when a deeper part of you knows that this isn’t
why you were born—it wasn’t what you were meant to be. After

“State Prisons Falter in Psychiatric Care,” by Mary Beth Pfeiffer. Poughkeepsie Journal. 10 March, 2002.

months of deprivation and isolation in the hole, the one thing that’s
easiest to lose is your humanity. You have to distance yourself from
your feelings, because to feel means to hurt, and hurting is what
you’ve been running from all along. It leaves you walking through
life like a zombie. Everything becomes empty and meaningless.
Within a few months of his release from “the hole” and state prison, this
individual was back on the inside, serving a one-to-three-year sentence for drug
possession. One wonders if he would have returned to drug use had he received drug
treatment while incarcerated, instead of two years in the hole.
3. Prevalence of Inmates with Mental Illness in Disciplinary Confinement


pproximately 11% of New York State inmates have been diagnosed as
“significantly, seriously or persistently mentally ill” by the New York State
Office of Mental Health (OMH). Of the 67,200 inmates in the New York State prison
system, 7,400 are on the OMH caseload, receiving either psychotropic medication,
counseling or both. Inmates with serious mental illness confront far more obstacles in
navigating the chaotic world of prison, particularly in maximum-security prisons where
the majority of inmates with mental illness are housed. Not surprisingly, a
disproportionate number end up in disciplinary confinement.
State law10 requires that OMH staff present information to a DOCS Hearing
Officer when a prisoner’s mental state is an issue in the disciplinary process. However,
prisoner attorneys say that DOCS and OMH have not implemented these safeguards in a
manner that protects mentally ill prisoners from being punished for being ill. According
to attorneys and a court-appointed psychiatrist who monitors conditions in the SHU at
Attica, this failure is due both to OMH’s overdiagnosis of malingering by mentally ill
prisoners and to the fact that hearing officers are not trained in mental illness
As a result, a high percentage of inmates in disciplinary lockdown are on the
OMH caseload. When we visited Attica in May 2000, 40 percent of inmates in the SHU
had been diagnosed as significantly, seriously or persistently mentally ill. At Elmira
Correctional Facility, 60 percent of the inmates in solitary confinement were mental
health patients. At Great Meadow prison, another large, maximum-security prison, 64
percent of prisoners in solitary confinement were on the OMH caseload. Many appeared
anguished, disoriented or otherwise mentally disturbed. Some mumbled incoherently
when we attempted to interview them; others expressed paranoid and delusional thoughts,
i.e., “The COs are poisoning my food,” and shouted to get our attention as we walked
through the cellblocks.

Huggins v. Coughlin, 76 N.Y.2d 904, 563 N.E.2d 281, 561 N.Y.S.2d 910 (1990).


See Testimony by the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project on Mental Health Care in Special
Housing Units in New York State Correctional Facilities, presented by Sarah Kerr to the New York State
Democratic Task Force on Criminal Justice Reform, December 4, 2000.


Visits to over 20 disciplinary lockdown units and information from the correction
officers who work in them on a daily basis confirm that many of the inmates there are
mentally ill, neurologically and/or cognitively impaired, and illiterate. Some cannot
control their behavior and act out in ways that are harmful to themselves or to others.
Some refuse medication to control their mental disorder; others attempt suicide. Clearly,
the stark conditions in disciplinary housing (23-hour lockdown, no programming, little
natural light or human contact) are the antithesis of a therapeutic environment and can
cause prisoners with mental illness or even emotionally stable individuals to deteriorate
psychologically. Some inmates regress to the point where they engage in highly desperate
and destructive behavior, including smearing or throwing feces, lighting their cells on
fire, engaging in self-mutilation by cutting, biting or burning themselves, or attempting
Too often, correction officials treat such behavior as a disciplinary problem rather
than a clinical one. Inmates who mutilate themselves or attempt suicide are issued a
disciplinary ticket for the charge of “inflicting self-harm.” Correction officials use a
regimen of increasingly harsh punishments, including additional time in lockdown, to
discipline inmates who continue to act out. Inmates who throw—or sometimes even
threaten to throw—bodily fluids or engage in other unhygienic acts are placed on a
restricted diet, known by inmates as “the loaf.” Three servings a day of a dense, tasteless
bread with a side portion of raw cabbage is the only food they receive for a week. The
facility’s Superintendent and medical director must approve all inmates who are put on a
restricted diet, and a directive limits the diet to seven days “on” followed by two days
“off.” Department officials report that three servings per day of the bread constitutes a
nutritionally sound diet, yet many inmates say they cannot consume three portions of the
unpalatable, hard-to-digest bread and will often go without it. When we visited Southport
Correctional Facility in April 2001, the Superintendent stated that “upwards of twenty”
inmates were on restricted diets. One man had been “on the loaf” for nine months and
lost 65 pounds, according to his attorney.
Given these harsh conditions, it is not surprising that a recent study by the
Poughkeepsie Journal found that a disproportionate number of suicides take place in
disciplinary lockdown. Between 1998 and 2000, 54% of prison suicides occurred in
Special Housing Units,12 a rate that is 14 times higher than that of general population
inmates. The New York State Commission on Correction, which investigates prison
deaths, sharply criticized prison mental health officials after inmate Carlos Diaz, who had
a history of psychiatric problems, committed suicide after a series of misbehavior reports
resulted in 15 years in solitary confinement. “It is a well-established fact that inmates
serving long-term sentences in SHUs are likely to decompensate,” Commission officials
wrote. They expressed “significant concern” at the system’s failure to monitor Diaz, who
suffered paranoia and hallucinations for years but who, after entering Southport
Correctional Facility, was determined not to be in need of mental health services.


Poughkeepsie Journal, “Suicides High in Prison ‘Box’,” December 16, 2001.

An underlying problem is the lack of supportive housing in the prison system for
inmates who are chronically disturbed and disruptive. When we meet with
Superintendents, they often speak with frustration about the administrative hurdles they
face in attempting to transfer psychotic inmates from the SHU to Central New York
Psychiatric Center (CNYPC) in Marcy, a 210-bed facility that provides services to
incarcerated mentally ill offenders in a therapeutic environment. Even if space is
available at CNYPC, treatment provides only short-term stabilization.
Once an inmate is stabilized, he is returned to the SHU (rather than general
population) to serve out the remainder of his disciplinary sentence. In some cases, he will
deteriorate within a short period of time, be transferred to CNYPC and stabilized
temporarily, and then be sent back to the SHU, where he will again decompensate and
continue the cycle. One schizophrenic prisoner whose medical chart was reviewed by
staff attorneys at Legal Aid had been admitted to CNYPC on more than 20 occasions
since his incarceration in the late 1970s. He had been housed continuously in 23-hour
lockdown from early 1991 through 2000.13
The assumption that behaviors such as throwing bodily waste, spitting, selfmutilating, or attacking correction officers and other inmates will somehow be stopped or
cured through increasingly harsh punishments indicates a failure to recognize that these
behaviors may very well have a psychological basis. Moreover, releasing inmates from
these units back to the community—in some cases after years of isolation and little
therapy beyond psychotropic medication—is no favor to them or society.
4. Insufficient Substance Abuse Treatment


pproximately 80% of state inmates are self-reported substance abusers. To
address their needs, the state prison system offers three types of substance
abuse treatment: ASAT (Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment); CASAT
(Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment); and RSAT (Residential
Substance Abuse Treatment). Prison drug treatment programs are run by both DOCS and
not-for-profit agencies specializing in addiction treatment such as Phoenix House or
Stay’n Out.
While New York has more drug treatment beds than most state prison systems14,
many of the DOCS-run programs we observed were compromised by either staff
vacancies, lengthy waiting lists or less than enthusiastic counselors. Inmates in most
DOCS-run programs reported a great deal of down time—cancelled classes, movies
instead of instruction or professionally facilitated groups—and little material of
therapeutic value.


See Testimony by Sarah Kerr on Mental Health Care in Special Housing Units in New York State
Correctional Facilities, December 4, 2000.
According to Department figures, about 20,000 inmates complete drug treatment programs annually, and
11,000 inmates are in treatment on any given day.


Unfortunately, the Governor’s 2003 budget calls for the elimination of all
remaining prison drug treatment programs run by outside agencies. Especially troubling
is a proposal to end the state’s contract with Phoenix House, a leader in the field of
addiction treatment. Phoenix House is one of the few programs in the country that can
boast an empirically validated success rate. About 70 percent of drug offenders who
complete the rigorous program test drug-free up to five years later. A particularly
valuable aspect of Phoenix House as it exists in the New York State prison system is that
inmates begin the program in prison (at Marcy Correctional Facility) and then graduate to
a residential treatment program in the community. Continuity of care is ensured, as is the
quality of treatment. Most important is that the offender completes the remainder of his
sentence in the real world (rather than the artificial world of prison) while striving to
remain drug-free and to find employment. Study after study shows that long-term
residential treatment, where individuals serve part of their sentence in a correctional
facility and part in the community, are markedly effective in stopping the cycle of drug
addiction and crime.
The Governor’s budget also proposes to eliminate all of DOCS’ contracts with
outside agencies that provide community-based drug treatment. It would close the Stay’n
Out program in Bayview and Arthur Kill Correctional Facilities. Stay’n Out is another
highly regarded program and a beacon of light for inmates at Arthur Kill, a prison
plagued with idleness. Finally, the 2003 budget seeks to eliminate 48 substance abuse
counseling positions, reducing the number of slots from 76 to 28.
Moreover, the state’s primary substance abuse program—ASAT—has been
eliminated in most maximum-security prisons, a cutback that has created serious
problems. For example, inmates must be enrolled in a drug treatment program in order to
receive treatment for hepatitis C, and must complete a drug program to accumulate
Earned Eligibility points for parole or to participate in the Family Reunion Program.
While 7 of the state’s 13 maximum-security prisons for general confinement inmates
have replaced ASAT with the similar Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT)
program, there is still no certified substance abuse treatment available in 6 maximumsecurity prisons, which together hold over 8,500 inmates. At Great Meadow Correctional
Facility, for example, there is not a single drug treatment counselor for 1,680 prisoners.
Moreover, facilities with RSAT typically have long waiting lists and/or staff
vacancies. When we visited Attica Correctional Facility in May 2000, for example,
nearly 600 men were on the waiting list for RSAT, which accommodates only 85 inmates
in each six-month cycle.
5. Unchecked Staff Misconduct


taff misconduct—taking the form of derisive and/or racist comments,
harassment for filing grievances against officers, falsification of charges, and
actual physical abuse—is reported by inmates in many maximum-security and some
medium-security facilities that we visit. Substantiating inmate claims, however, is
difficult if not impossible. Unless the incident is recorded on camera, it will be an


inmate’s word against an officer’s, and the inmate is a convicted felon. Nevertheless, as
one Superintendent observed, “Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.” More
commonly, Superintendents deny the validity of inmate reports. A standard response is
that “every complaint is investigated,” as if, ipso facto, the problem does not exist or
somehow takes care of itself.
Staff misconduct is clearly a legitimate concern when the following information
emerges about a particular facility:

Multiple accounts of CO abuse from inmates during our visit and in post-visit
letters from inmates who feared speaking with us in the facility;
Phone calls and letters from distressed family members and attorneys;
A high number of grievances filed against COs;
Feedback from ILC members—who are often the most articulate and mature
inmates—describing specific incidents in sufficient detail including
identifying information.

Inmate allegations about staff misconduct are especially credible when the ILC
members impress upon us that some officers treat them fairly and provide names of COs
whom they consider professional and fair. In many cases, the identities of abusive COs
come as no surprise to Superintendents. Generally, reports of staff misconduct point to a
rogue group of correction officers rather than an entire correction staff. As one
Superintendent stated, “Ten percent of my officers give me ninety percent of the
problems.” Most reports of abuse are said to occur on the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift, when
the executive and civilian staff has gone home, and when there is a larger concentration
of junior officers and the inmates are not occupied in programs.
Part of the problem, Superintendents say, is that they lack the authority to remove
a problem officer or even transfer him to a non-inmate-contact position without
considerable documented evidence. New York’s correction officers’ union is one of the
most powerful in the state and fiercely protects its members from inmate allegations that
could result in suspension, dismissal or penalties. Written reports of staff misconduct
filed by inmates (known as “Code 49’s”) are not recorded in officers’ personnel files.
Some Superintendents state that if they receive several grievances against a particular
officer, they will speak to the officer informally and issue an oral warning. If negative
reports continue, they will document the allegations and build a case for a transfer. The
process is time-consuming, however, and usually challenged every step of the way by
union representatives. Claims made by convicted felons are easy to refute and difficult to
prove. And when a particular inmate is known to file grievances, he is subject to
harassment by other officers.
In serious cases, the Department will send a representative from the Inspector
General’s office (an investigatory arm of DOCS) to interview an inmate about an
allegation. However, these meetings take place inside the prison, and word quickly gets
out that the inmate spoke with the Inspector General’s office. He then becomes
vulnerable to retaliation. In short, the process of substantiating, preventing and


responding effectively to staff misconduct remains a serious and complex problem that
merits significant attention and reform.
6. Uneven Medical Care 15


rimarily due to high-risk behavior prior to incarceration and inadequate health
care in the community, inmates have higher rates of infectious disease and
chronic illness than non-inmates. The most recent survey by the U.S. Department of
Justice shows that New York correctional facilities house more HIV-infected inmates
than any correctional system in the country. While an HIV seroprevalence study
conducted by the New York State Department of Health in 2000 indicates that 5% of
incoming male and 14% of female inmates are HIV-infected, state officials estimate that
approximately 6,000 inmates are HIV-infected. Unfortunately, only about 3,500 cases are
known and slightly fewer receive treatment.
Hepatitis C is another concern. Prison officials report that nearly 10,000 inmates
(23% of female inmates and 14% of male inmates) have hepatitis C, an insidious liver
infection that is difficult to treat, has no definite cure and, over many years, kills 5% of
those who contract it. Treatment is expensive, of limited effectiveness and can involve
serious side effects.
During recent years, DOCS has improved several important areas of inmate health
care. Offering the newest HIV medications, for example, has contributed to an 85%
decline in the number of AIDS-related deaths since 1995.16 Aggressive testing and
treatment of tuberculosis have helped produce a 66% decline in the number of inmates
with active TB. The construction of five regional medical units (similar to hospitals) and
the renovation of prison clinics throughout the system have generally improved services.
Still, medical care varies widely among facilities and in some prisons is woefully
inadequate. The problem is largely due to noncompetitive pay rates for medical staff and
hiring and performance standards that fall below those in the community. New York
State prison physicians, for example, are not required to be board-certified. Because
correctional health care providers are Civil Service employees, termination for poor
performance is difficult to impose. “It is easier to have a doctor’s license suspended than
to fire him,” a DOCS official told us.
At many facilities we visited, inmates spoke of a one-to-three-week wait to see a
staff physician and cursory evaluations by nurses at sick call. Likewise, overworked
nurses described the difficulties of working in understaffed clinics with minimal guidance
from under-qualified or absentee medical directors. According to Department officials,
for correctional facilities located close to New York City or within commuting distance

For a fuller description of the quality of state prison health care, see the Correctional Association’s
February 2000 report, Health Care in New York State Prisons.

However, experts have estimated that more than half of the HIV population is unknown and thereby
missing out on life-prolonging treatment.

from major hospitals, attracting qualified health care professionals is virtually impossible.
The Department copes with personnel shortages by hiring per diem employees, a practice
that costs far more in the long term than increasing salaries for permanent health care
Accessing decent health care in prison is also confounded by various Department
rules that limit or deny certain treatments to inmates. A glaring example is DOCS’
requirement that an inmate be enrolled in or have completed a prison-based drug program
in order to receive treatment for hepatitis C. Prison officials say that because hepatitis C
is spread primarily through intravenous drug use, and because using drugs while on
hepatitis C medication can have life-threatening side effects, drug education and
treatment should precede medical treatment. The problem is, not every prison in the state
system has a drug treatment program. The written, self-administered ASAT course,
which the Department will substitute for an actual program, is of little use to illiterate
inmates. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that a doctor in the community would require a
patient to enroll in a drug program before he or she receives treatment for hepatitis C.
While prisoners with hepatitis C should be made aware of the serious health risks
associated with continued substance use, a more reasonable approach would be to require
health care staff to counsel and educate inmates individually, rather than to mandate their
participation in a program that is not readily accessible to every prisoner.
A related problem is that inmates cannot receive treatment for hepatitis C unless
they have at least fifteen months left on their sentence or fifteen months until their
scheduled parole board hearing. According to the National Institutes of Health, only
people who can be available for a full year of intensive care should be treated, otherwise
the treatment is ineffective. However, inmate attorneys say that correction officials use
parole board appearances as a pretext for denying the costly treatment, knowing that the
majority of inmates convicted of violent offenses are denied parole and will remain in
prison for years. One remedy would be to use the expiration of an inmate’s sentence,
rather than the next parole board appearance, in deciding treatment.
These and other problems are related to the lack of a uniformly administered
quality assurance program. Quality assurance, a critical component of health care
delivery, involves internal controls and self-assessments such as weekly staff meetings,
utilization and morbidity reviews and patient chart analyses. Most hospitals in the
community have a quality assurance team that meets weekly, collects data and makes
decisions based on that data to improve the quality of care. Hospitals and clinics in the
community must show detailed quality assurance policies and ongoing procedures in
order to receive accreditation. On the majority of prison visits, however, we met medical
staff whose knowledge of quality assurance as a concept, or of actual procedures for
assessing quality, was vague. Occasional references were made to a quality assurance
protocol that the Department was developing, or to sporadic visits from regional medical
Clearly, prison health care will remain inadequate at many facilities unless
internal and external measures to improve quality are strengthened, barriers to treatment


are removed and compensation rates are raised to community levels. Since most state
inmates return to the community—approximately 28,000 a year in New York—prison
health care is a major public concern.
7. Low Morale Among Correction Officers


n 1999, the Correctional Association began systematically exploring issues of
concern to correction officers. On each prison visit, the Prison Visiting
Committee meets with four to six correction officers and/or sergeants. Most of them are
as willing to speak about their experiences as the inmates. In fact, many COs use the
language of prisoners in portraying their work: “We’re doing time, too,” a CO at a
maximum-security prison commented. “When I retire, I’ll have served a 15-year
Group interviews with officers at 25 prisons suggest that morale is low and that
state pay scales (CO salaries start at slightly more than $25,000 annually) do not
adequately compensate for the downsides of the job.17 Officials of the 21,000-member
union representing state correction officers describe their work as “the dirtiest, most
thankless job in law enforcement.” To raise the salaries of COs and boost their public
image, the union produced a video, “Inside the Walls: The Toughest Beat in New York
State,” showing images of rioting inmates, a bloodied CO uniform, and a spate of
homemade prison weapons. A CO voiceover talks about the toll the work takes on them.
On the video, the Department’s chief medical officer speaks about the growing number of
mentally ill people behind bars, accurately noting that twice as many psychotic inmates
are in prison than in mental health institutions across the state.
“If my kid said he wanted to be a CO when he grows up, I’d slap him,” a CO
responded when we asked if he would recommend the job to his children. In fact, some
COs say they tell strangers they do something else for a living, like security work,
because of the stigma attached to the job.
Another issue raised by correction officers in the western region of the state is
inadequate medical coverage. Delayed payment by the state and insufficient
reimbursement rates have caused some medical providers to drop state correction officers
from their rosters. Correction officers with whom we spoke in Elmira Correctional
Facility, for example, said they cannot find health care providers to provide procedures
such as MRIs or mammograms.
Most COs want more training, particularly in the area of coping with prison gangs
and inmates with mental illness; increased programs to reduce inmate idleness; greater
public recognition of the role they play in keeping New York safe; and protection against
inmates with communicable diseases. The Department’s recent addition of training for
incoming officers in the areas of mental illness and working in Special Housing Units is a
step in the right direction. However, more serious and far-reaching efforts are needed to

An exception is correction officers who work in prisons in the westernmost and northernmost regions of
the state, where the salaries are more competitive.

improve morale on the front lines, where correction officers carry out the most difficult
aspects of prison work on a daily basis.
8. Fewer Parole Releases for People Convicted of Violent Offenses


n recent years, the parole board has sharply reduced releases of people
convicted of violent offenses. Currently, approximately 80 percent of violent
offenders are denied parole.
The systematic denial of parole, particularly to individuals who have spent many
years in prison and maintained good behavior, has fostered widespread hopelessness. It is
one of the most frequently raised issues on prison visits and in letters to the Correctional
Association. Inmates believe that their efforts to follow the rules, perform their prison
jobs and serve as model inmates mean little to the parole board. Regardless of their track
record or amount of time served, they believe—and in most cases are correct—that they
will “be hit” with another two years. A prisoner from Green Haven wrote:
Parole should be a privilege and a right for the prisoner who has
earned it. Prisoners are receptive to rehabilitation programs and would
take full advantage of them, but the present system offers little to aid
rehabilitation, and does much to discourage and frustrate the
rehabilitative process. The prisoner is left with no way out, with little
or no hope for the future. He is filled with feelings of helplessness,
anger, frustration, and hate. And all this adds to prison tension,
increasing the level of violence behind the prison walls, as well as
creating the potential for a violent eruption throughout the system.





irtually every problem noted in this report or observed in a New York State
prison would be ameliorated by reducing the prison population. The
concerns of both inmates and correction staff are exacerbated by the strain of providing
services to too many people with too few resources. Addressing the overarching problem
of excessive incarceration is an essential component of any effective strategy to resolve
the problems detailed in this report.
Our leading recommendations call for the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws
and the increased use of alternatives to incarceration, such as drug treatment and
community supervision, so that adequate resources can be available for the inmates and
correction officers who live and work behind bars.


Nationally, as crime continues to drop and correctional expenditures continue to
consume vast amounts of taxpayer dollars, other states are turning more and more to
community-based alternatives.18 New York would be wise to:
A. Repeal New York’s mandatory sentencing statutes, which require lengthy
prison terms for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders. A substantial number of
states have already enacted changes in mandatory-minimum sentencing and drug
policy during the 2001 legislative session in order to reduce their soaring prison
budgets. Connecticut legislation permits judges to deviate from mandatory
minimum sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug offenders. Iowa passed a law
giving judges discretion in imposing what had been a mandatory five-year
sentence for low-level drug crimes and certain property crimes, including
B. Follow the lead of states such as Arizona and California, which mandate
treatment instead of jail for nonviolent drug offenders. The most suitable
alternative punishment for nonviolent, drug-involved offenders is intensive
supervision, which includes such features as day reporting, community service,
job training, and mandatory participation in proven drug treatment programs.19
C. Create a presumption for parole release to supervision in the community for
prisoners over the age of 55 who have served a substantial portion of their prison
sentence. The cost of incarcerating elderly and infirm inmates doubles from
$30,000 to $60,000 per year, primarily because of high medical costs. Elderly ex18

Fox Butterfield, “States Ease Laws on Time in Prison,” The New York Times. 9/2/01.


A 1997 study by RANDS’s Drug Policy Research Center concluded that treatment, which is significantly
less costly than imprisonment, reduces 15 times more serious crime than mandatory minimum sentences.

offenders have extremely low recidivism rates and can be monitored at greatly
reduced cost in the community.
D. Expand the use of electronic monitoring.
E. Increase parole releases so that inmates who have maintained good disciplinary
records and are safe risks do not continue to languish in prison at a cost to
taxpayers of more than $30,000 per inmate annually.


According to Department figures, approximately 50% of state inmates are
reincarcerated three years after release. This high rate of recidivism might decline if more
were done on the inside to prepare them for life on the outside. Cost savings from the
decline in prison population should be devoted to the following steps:
A. Restore the vocational programs that were cut over the past decade,
particularly in maximum-security prisons where idleness and tension are highest
and inmates are serving the longest sentences.
B. Renew the state’s contracts with not-for-profit addiction treatment agencies
so that inmates can still receive the most effective form of treatment available in
the prison system and continue it in the community.
C. Ensure that every facility has a fully staffed certified substance abuse
treatment program. Since DOCS requires that inmates complete drug treatment
in order to participate in Family Reunion and Merit Time and to receive treatment
for hepatitis C, drug treatment must be available in every facility.
D. Restore college programs so that inmates who have earned a GED can continue
their education and increase their chances of finding work upon release.
E. With the help of business leaders, develop in-prison job-training programs that
prepare inmates for employment at a specific company or agency upon release.


Despite state officials’ continual claims of the need for more disciplinary housing,
nearly all the new, supermax units visited by the Correctional Association between 1998
and 2001 were operating under capacity. Conditions in these units are extraordinarily
restrictive, harsh and degrading; they do little to improve inmates’ ability to reintegrate
successfully into the general prison population or society. The Department of


Correctional Services and New York State policymakers should adopt the following
A. Place a moratorium on the construction of supermax prisons.
B. Convert 100 cells at Upstate and Five Points Correctional Facilities to drug
treatment beds for inmates who use drugs in prison.
C. Convert a SHU-200 to a single-occupancy honor block with group
programming for inmates serving long sentences and with good disciplinary
D. After a two-week adjustment period, allow any inmate who requests it to
participate in the self-administered ASAT program.
E. Allow inmates in disciplinary confinement to take the GED exam.
F. Provide anger management, self-help and educational programming through
intra-institution cable or the audio-visual hook-up capacity that exists but remains
unused in the SHU-200s.
G. Discontinue the practice of punishing prisoners with a restricted diet of
bread and cabbage reminiscent of medieval times.
H. Double-cell only those inmates who request cellmates.
I. Allow inmates to wear gloves during their one hour of outdoor recreation.
The majority of prisons are located in cold northern climates. Without gloves,
many prisoners do not leave their cells during winter.
J. Permit some form of exercise equipment (such as a chin-up bar or a ball) in the
empty outdoor recreation pens.
K. End the practice of mechanically restraining inmates during solitary
recreation. Requiring a man to wear full restraints while confined alone in an
empty cage is excessively punitive.
L. Provide prisoners who are confined in cells behind thick metal doors with a
way to contact staff in case of an emergency.


Correction officials acknowledge that, with the decrease in parole releases and programs, there are few
incentives for good behavior, a critical component of prison management. Converting a partially empty
SHU-200, with its larger cells and location on the grounds of a medium-security facility where more
program resources exist, is a way to promote pro-social behavior through incentives and rewards rather
than punishment and deprivation.

M. Limit the length of stay in disciplinary housing to six months, except for
inmates responsible for serious acts of violence.


The deinstitutionalization of people with mental illness and the failure to provide
adequate support in the community have led to massive confinement of thousands of
individuals suffering from mental disorders. With the support of the Governor and
legislative leaders, the Department of Correctional Services and the Office of Mental
Health should agree to:
A. Discontinue the practice of confining inmates with serious mental illness in
B. Require that mental health staff participate in disciplinary hearings for any
inmate who is on the mental health caseload.
C. Create more Intermediate Care Programs and Special Needs Units, where
inmates are more likely to be treated rather than punished for their illness and less
likely to be victimized by other inmates.
D. Increase the number of beds, levels of care and treatment modalities at
Central New York Psychiatric Center so that adequate space is available for
inmates who require intensive inpatient care. (Currently, there are only 210 beds
at CNYPC and approximately 1,300 inmates systemwide that OMH has classified
as requiring the most intensive array of mental health services.)
E. Provide more clinical-based training to correction officers who work in
housing areas for inmates with mental illness.
F. Improve discharge planning by building stronger ties with community mental
health providers and inmates’ parole officers.


Staff misconduct in maximum-security prisons is the most common grievance
expressed to the Correctional Association in letters from prisoners and on prison visits.
The following initiatives should be taken:
A. Strengthen the power of Inmate Grievance Resolution Committees (IGRC’s)
to investigate and resolve inmate grievances.
B. Ensure that civilian members of IGRC’s are fully autonomous and not related
to a member of the prison’s security staff. In addition, they should report directly
to Central Office rather than facility supervisors.


C. Scrutinize, track and address correction officer misconduct. Central Office
and facility Superintendents should formally track the number and nature of
allegations filed against officers and whether and where inmate injuries were
sustained. Officers with multiple charges of excessive use of force should be
terminated, penalized or, at a minimum, reassigned to non-inmate-contact


In recent years, the Department of Correctional Services has made laudable
strides in improving the quality of prisoner health care. However, additional
improvements are necessary, and the following recommendations are proposed:
A. Make pay rates for correctional health care workers comparable to
community compensation levels. Civil Service pay grades make it difficult to
recruit and retain qualified physicians, nurses and pharmacists. As a result, there
are severe staff shortages in most prison clinics and an over-reliance on costly per
diem health care workers.
B. Require annual reviews by the New York State Department of Health of
HIV/AIDS policies and practices in state prisons.
C. Improve access to HIV testing and education. Approximately 6,000 inmates are
infected with HIV, yet officials estimate that only about half of HIV-positive
inmates are known and receive life-prolonging treatment. In conjunction with the
Department of Health, DOCS should allocate staff and resources to educate
inmates about the importance of getting tested, initiating treatment and taking
measures to prevent transmission in prison and upon release.
D. Enhance HIV expertise among medical staff. The Department of Health should
assist state prisons in developing mandatory training programs for medical staff
about HIV care and in developing and annually monitoring procedures for the
care of HIV-infected inmates.
E. Discontinue the policy of requiring inmates to enroll in a drug program in
order to receive treatment for hepatitis C. While prisoners with hepatitis C
should be made aware of the serious health risks associated with continued
substance use, a more reasonable approach would be to require health care staff to
educate prisoners on these issues rather than to mandate their participation in a
program that does not readily exist in every facility.
F. Use inmates’ sentence expiration date rather than their parole eligibility date
to decide whether or not they should be started on hepatitis C treatment.
Current policy requires that inmates have 15 months until either their parole


eligibility date or their sentence expiration date in order to receive hepatitis C
treatment. Because many inmates do not get released on their parole eligibility
date, DOCS should instead base treatment decisions on the fixed sentence
expiration date. Ideally, if the parole board grants a prisoner on hepatitis C
treatment early relase, DOCS and Department of Health (DOH) could arrange for
continued treatment in the community.


Group interviews with 100 officers at 25 prisons indicate that morale is low.
Demoralized, unfulfilled, overwhelmed and/or fearful correction officers cannot be
expected to perform their duties professionally. Interim steps the Department can take to
boost morale include:
A. Increase geographic pay differentials in prisons close to New York City.
Many officers must commute more than two hours to work each way because
they cannot afford housing in the area where they work. While increasing
geographic pay differentials will, in most cases, still fall short of covering housing
costs in the New York City metropolitan area, it will help provide officers in
those areas with a livable wage.
B. Ensure that health care coverage is adequate for all correction officers and
their dependents. That correction officers in some regions have difficulty
receiving medical coverage due to late or insufficient payment by the state’s
insurance company is unacceptable.
C. Offer tuition assistance to officers seeking college credits at state or city
universities. Many correction officers have expressed a desire to further their
college education but cannot afford to do so. Policymakers and State University
of New York directors should consider offering SUNY extension courses via
distance-learning technology, similar to the Department’s use of telemedicine in
prison clinics and community medical centers.
D. Subsidize memberships at local health clubs or YMCAs for correction staff
to help reduce job stress.
E. Create more opportunities for officers to advance in their “home” facilities
(in order to avoid costly and stressful relocations) and to rotate assignments and
F. For those officers who are interested, encourage them to serve formally or
informally as coaches, mentors and role models to inmates through programs
such as “YAP,” where inmates and COs counsel at-risk youth from the


community, or at facilities such as Willard Drug Treatment Campus or Shock
Incarceration camps.21


Many prisons, particularly maximum-security prisons, are poisoned by hostile
relations between inmates and staff. The following actions can improve this central
A. Require the presence and oversight of supervisors during inmate pat frisks.
Pat frisking is an inherently humiliating experience, loathed by inmates and
unsettling for many correction officers. Pat frisks are meant to be invasive—
contraband hidden in the buttocks or groin area, where concealment is easiest,
cannot be discovered without the officer touching, “patting down” or intrusively
searching those areas. Pat frisks should be replaced by scanning wands and
magnometers where possible and be conducted only in the presence of a sergeant
or higher-ranking correction staff.
B. Increase diversity of correction staff. Approximately 85% of state inmates are
black or Hispanic, while 95% of the correction staff is white. This racial divide
fosters hostility on both sides and fuels an undercurrent of racism. DOCS should
design targeted recruitment strategies that will attract and retain more officers of
C. Sponsor inmate-officer mediation and discussion groups to air problems and
identify common solutions. Inmate Liaison Committees at several prisons have
requested the opportunity to meet with correction officers in a neutral setting to
discuss grievances and identify ways to make prison life more hospitable for those
who live or work behind bars.


Research conducted by the Correctional Association on Shock Incarceration camps showed significantly
higher morale among correction officers at the camps as compared to COs working in traditional security
roles. (See Rehabilitation that Works: Improving and Expanding Shock Incarceration and Similar
Programs in New York State. The Correctional Association of New York, 1996.)





n July 17, 2001, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Albion Correctional
Facility, a medium-security prison for women in the western region of the
state. With 1,130 general population inmates and 70 work release inmates, Albion is the
state’s largest women’s prison. We had last been to Albion in 1998.
Superintendent Anginell Andrews provided a brief overview the facility, noting
that the number of double-celled inmates had dropped considerably since our previous
Feedback from Inmates
Inmates we met with throughout the day had two main grievances: harassment
from correction officers and inadequate medical care. General disrespect and use of racial
and ethnic slurs by officers is common, they reported. “These officers need lessons in
manners,” a woman said. “They talk to us like dogs,” added another. Inmates reported
that lesbians, particularly those who appear masculine, are targeted for harassment by
COs. The women noted that “this stuff doesn’t go on at Bedford [Hills],” the maximumsecurity prison at which most of the women had spent time. When male officers enter the
women’s bathroom or dorm, the inmates reported, they typically fail to announce their
presence, as they are required to do. If a woman is undressed, COs threaten to write them
up for indecent exposure. When issued such a ticket, “it sticks,” the women said.
We asked about sexual relationships between staff and inmates and were told that
“you just gotta smile and someone will like you.” Inmates said that sex between staff and
inmates occurs on all shifts. “A lot of it is consensual; many women have been in for ten
or more years.” Inmates who choose to have sex with other inmates are labeled gay,
prevented from living or working with their sex partner, and targeted for harassment.
Inmates agreed that “COs shouldn’t try to police us when they’re breaking the same rules
as us.”
We were glad to hear that cross-gender pat frisking has been banned since our last
visit. The women reported that pat frisking is down generally, noting that, “now they
have to have a reason when they pull you over; it’s not just to harass you.”
The other matter raised was medical services. Inmates reported that follow-up
visits are not conducted, emergencies are not treated as emergencies, and seeing a doctor
requires many trips to sick call. Without bilingual staff, inmates translate for patients,


who complain that they then hear about their illnesses from others in the yard or mess
hall. On the other hand, inmates said the doctors are professional, answer their questions
and spend sufficient time with them when they are seen. They also gave high marks to
the nurse practitioner. Inmates agreed that those with chronic illnesses such as asthma
and diabetes receive adequate and consistent care.
Mental Health Services
The unit chief reported that there are 329 inmates on the OMH caseload; 241 on
psychotropic medication. Of the 19 inmates in the SHU, more than half (11) are on the
OMH caseload and 8 of those are on meds. The facility is allotted one full-time and one
part-time psychiatrist, but currently has only a part-time psychiatrist. The unit chief was
proud to note that the psychiatrist is board-certified. One of two full-time nurse positions
is vacant. There is no bilingual mental health staff.
The unit chief explained that Albion is an OMH Level II facility, which means
they are equipped to handle emergencies but cannot provide treatment for seriously and
persistently mentally ill inmates. Inmates requiring more substantial services are
transferred to Bedford Hills, the only Level 1 facility for women. The unit chief estimated
that five women each month are transferred to Bedford Hills via a twelve-hour bus ride.
We spoke with the discharge planner, who meets with inmates on the OMH
caseload three months before their parole date. She explained that she helps inmates
apply for public assistance and Medicaid before they leave. She reported that “most”
women return to the city and “half or better” go to a shelter. She said she works with
Manhattan Psychiatric Center to coordinate mental health services for women upon their
release. Inmates leave with a two-week supply of their medications and a prescription for
another two-week supply.
We were told that Albion will significantly enhance its mental health services in
2003 with the opening of a Mental Health Satellite Unit and an Intermediate Care
Meeting with Correction Officers
The correction officers cited a number of reasons for entering the field, but none
said they actually planned on becoming COs. “There was nothing else,” a male officer
said. Concerning job satisfaction, the group agreed with the officer who said that “more is
expected of us, but our salaries have not kept up.” They pointed to the growing number of
mentally ill inmates as evidence of their increasing responsibilities. “We’re not just
guards,” one CO said.
Several members of the group became angry when asked to describe the women
under their watch. One officer said the difference between male and female inmates is
that women prisoners “are manipulators” and “play head games,” while male inmates
engage in violence.


Another CO reported that the policy restricting cross-gender pat frisking has
resulted in more contraband, making conditions less safe for inmates as well as staff.
Generally, the officers were bitter about the new policy. One officer, however, said he
was glad he didn’t have to pat frisk the women. “Look at these women,” he said, “would
you want to touch them?”
We asked the group what changes they would like to see at the facility. One CO
said he would like to see all personal property taken from inmates. A second CO added
that inmates “shouldn’t have anything that makes them feel like a ‘woman.’” Another
officer said he would like security staff to have access to a weight room or gym to help
alleviate stress after a shift.
Transitional Services Unit
The Department’s new transitional services program is being phased in at Albion.
Phase One, which focuses on adjustment to prison, is in place. The staff person with
whom we met said that the facility is awaiting approval to implement the second phase of
the program, which focuses on inmates nearing release. Approximately 100 women are
released from Albion each month. The staff person was unclear about the pre-release
services and did not know who was responsible for discharge planning.
Medical Clinic
The medical director was out; the nurse administrator was helpful and
informative. Two hundred inmates (about 20% of the population) are infected with
HIV/AIDS, the nurse administrator reported, and increasing numbers are testing positive
for hepatitis C. The clinic suffers from staffing shortages (they need four additional
nurses and clerical staff) and better computers to track appointments and inmate records.
There are also no Spanish-speaking medical personnel at the facility.
Feedback from inmates indicated that the new health services director is
competent and well liked, but that access to physicians for routine medical needs
continues to be problematic. Sometimes it takes up to three weeks to see a doctor for a
sore throat.
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
Conditions in the SHU seem to have improved since our last visit. The inmates
appeared in relatively good mental and physical health. They also reported that COs treat
them well and are responsive.
We were concerned with the number of inmates on keeplock status who are
housed in the SHU. Inmates sentenced to the SHU have greater deprivations and
restrictions than those sentenced to keeplock. We were told that inmates on keeplock are
housed in the SHU because of lack of space.


Meeting with Executive Team
The Superintendent was unable to attend the debriefing session, so we presented
our observations and recommendations to the Deputy Superintendents and other senior
staff. We raised the issue of CO misconduct and verbal harassment of inmates. In
response to inmates’ complaints about COs entering dorms and bathrooms unannounced,
the administration reported that stalls are scheduled for installation in the bathrooms.
We noted that the practice of housing keeplock inmates in the SHU violates
inmates’ rights and was a source of bitterness. The administration said that the dormitory
style setting makes keeplock in housing areas impossible. We pointed out that Albion is
not the only prison with dorms; other facilities have managed to solve the space problem.
We reported the positive feedback we received about the new health services
director and the grievances about access to physicians. We suggested, as we did after our
last visit, that the translation services from AT&T be used. The administration said they
would look into why there are inordinate delays to see a doctor and receive medical test




n May 18, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Attica Correctional
Facility, a maximum-security prison for men approximately 35 miles east of
Buffalo. The massive, fortress-like prison, housing over 2,200 inmates, looms behind a
turreted, 30-foot wall. Opened in 1931 and site of the 1971 uprising, Attica remains an
enduring landmark in New York’s correctional history.
Superintendent Victor Herbert, who has been at Attica since 1999, is also the
Supervising Superintendent of the prison hub (a group of prisons in a specific region).
Because of statewide training during the time of our visit, many of the civilian
instructors, medical staff and counselors were out, and there was minimal inmate
movement or programs.
The First Deputy Superintendent noted that the number of inmates in keeplock
was down significantly—from 450 in 1998 (when we last visited) to 150 today. The
construction of over 3,000 new SHU beds over the past several years has allowed prisons
to transfer out inmates with disciplinary infractions. A downside of all this movement, he
noted, is the annual high turnover rate (50%) of Attica’s population. Every year Attica
receives and transfers out approximately 1,000 inmates. In 1999, 272 inmates “maxed
out” at Attica and were released directly into the community.
Programs consist of facility jobs such as porter, carpenter or food service worker,
plus academic education, industry and substance abuse treatment. Two new shops,
electrical training and plumbing, had been added; we were pleased to see that the general
business class was still up and running.
The law library was bright, spacious and humming with activity. It was wellequipped, adequately staffed with 22 inmate clerks and recently received a generous
donation of law texts.
During a tour of the school, we learned that the College Consortium has endured,
with 65 inmate students participating, but that it would probably end within a year since
outside funding sources have dried up. We met with an Adult Basic Education (ABE)
instructor, who teaches 3 classes of about 23 students each. Between 1999 and 2000, he
said, the GED passing rate dropped from 70% to 55%. He explained that the GED
eligibility tests have become more difficult and that he needs two more instructors. Fully
40% of Attica inmates who read below the eighth-grade level are not in school, because
either they do not want to give up their prison jobs, or they simply do not want to be in


Medical Clinic
The medical director was out. The nurse administrator (NA) provided a tour of the
clinic, which was clean and spacious with state-of-the-art equipment and a modern
physical therapy room with weight lifting machines and treadmills.
In contrast to hospitals in the community, there was no quality assurance program
in place. The NA explained that the Department is in the process of issuing a quality
assurance protocol. While inmate medical files seemed organized and up to date, there
was no general system or procedure for tracking illness rates, outcomes and follow-up
appointments, a key component of quality assurance programs. Summary figures were
not readily available for inmates suffering from chronic illnesses such as hepatitis C,
diabetes, asthma and HIV/AIDS. A Prison Visiting Committee member from Montefiore
Hospital in the Bronx stated in his report: “I found it disturbing that the Attica medical
facility could not provide us with a sick call log…a log of persons to be seen, by whom,
why and the time they checked in and out. For such a large prison, there was a vagueness
about data that seemed odd.”
Nevertheless, the number of medical grievances is low, consistent with the few
complaints we received from inmates directly about medical care. Complaints we did
hear focused on delays in specialty care, which was not surprising given the
Department’s recent troubles with identifying and reimbursing specialty care providers in
the region.
Mental Health Services
The unit chief, who described himself as an “administrator, not a clinician,”
provided a tour. The unit has eight dorm beds for OMH Level I inmates classified as
“seriously and persistently mentally ill,” as well as three observation cells for inmates
deemed dangerous to themselves or others. General population inmates also visit the unit
for “psych meds” and/or counseling. The unit chief said the unit will be expanded in the
fall; more inpatient beds and observation cells will be added. There is no bilingual staff;
inmate interpreters are used, which threatens confidentiality and accurate translation. He
noted that the COs who work in the unit receive eight days of mental health training.
Each of the dorm beds was occupied; the inmates said they were pleased with the
care and had no major complaints. The dayroom was pleasant and sunny and had a TV
and some books. There was a balcony where patients could sit and look onto the
courtyard through the bars.
The three observation cells were dark, gloomy and barren but for a small metal
sink, a toilet and a metal slab that serves as a bed. Instead of mattresses, inmates are
issued a blanket and a “mattress pad,” a thin, rough pad. In the first cell the inmate lay on
the floor (his cell did not have a bed) under a blanket and mattress pad. In the second cell
the inmate slept on the metal slab with the blanket and the mattress pad covering his


entire body, face and head. The inmate in the third cell lay curled in fetal position on the
floor near the toilet; his body, like the others, was an unidentifiable mass under the green
and white covers.
A Prison Visiting Committee member with a background in mental health stated
in her report: “The observation cells were just as shocking as they were two years ago.
No one is so suicidal that they need to sleep naked on a concrete floor next to a toilet.
There are many obvious things that can be done to improve conditions in these cells, and
OMH appears to be doing none of them. The agency should fix these problems
immediately—doing so would require little work and little expense.”
We have seen mattresses in observation cells in other NYS prisons, but the OMH
representative said that inmates can tear the mattresses and use the shredded material to
commit suicide. When asked if OMH would consider issuing mattresses on a case by
case basis, the unit chief responded that “options are always good.”
We spoke at length with the discharge coordinator, who outlined the ways he
assists inmates prior to release. “Discharge planning is the most important thing we do
besides establishing inmate stability,” the unit chief added. Each month, seven or eight
inmates are discharged from the unit and released from prison. The discharge coordinator
said that he fills out applications for Social Security Insurance (SSI) and makes
appointments at community mental health agencies. He informs the inmate’s parole
officer of the date and time of appointment. The inmate receives a two-week supply of
medication and a two-week prescription. Despite the discharge coordinator’s attempts to
find inmates housing, more than half of them are discharged to homeless shelters in New
York City. In April 2000, for example, 4 of the 6 prisoners who were released from the
mental health satellite unit were sent straight to homeless shelters.
Intermediate Care Program (ICP)
The 78-bed ICP houses inmates who are “unable to function in the general prison
population due to the effects of mental illness.” Run jointly by DOCS and OMH, the ICP
is a voluntary program that attempts to “mainstream” low-functioning inmates who have
difficulty adjusting to life in general population. The average length of stay in the
program is 18 to 24 months but can be as little as three months. We were impressed with
the staff and their efforts to help the inmates learn daily living skills.
Feedback from Inmates
The prisoners with whom we spoke (in the cellblocks, program areas and on the
Inmate Liaison Committee) appeared generally cautious and guarded. Unlike inmates at
other maximum-security prisons, they expressed suspicion about our motivations and
were wary of disclosing information. They described Attica as one of the toughest prisons
in the system. “This is a disciplinary jail,” one man said, a place where COs are “like
family—they have their cliques and their cronies,” and where the administration has little
influence over the inner workings of the prison. Many inmates spoke about the hostility


from the COs, unjustified pat frisks, various humiliations and occasional beatings.
“People are scared to go to chow or rec,” one man said. “If your ID card is pulled, it’s
over.” Apparently, some COs will single out certain inmates and direct them to “step to
the back of the line” while the other inmates move on. The inmate is told to “go to the
wall,” where he is pat frisked. With no supervisors present, COs “act tough” and conduct
the frisk in a way meant to provoke the inmate or get him “to react and come off the
wall.” If they move, they risk being beaten. Pat frisks are supposed to take place in front
of a supervisor, but more often than not they are conducted first and then a supervisor is
A Correctional Association board member with more than 20 years of visiting
experience stated in his report: “The ‘go to the wall’ humiliations and beatings closely
replicate what was reported to Commissioner Goord two years ago, which suggests that
little if anything has occurred since then to address a profound problem. The intensity of
the inmates’ complaints was especially disturbing.”
Inmates reported that COs enforce policies that are not consistent with DOCS’
directives, such as revoking commissary privileges for talking in the hallway. Even if
there are “resolutions on top,” they said, the policies are not carried out on the “ground
level.” COs on the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift were viewed as the worst offenders—rogue
officers who run the prison as they see fit once the administration leaves at four o’clock.
A number of men spoke about items disappearing from packages they receive
from the outside, which they believe the COs steal. “A CO actually said to me, ‘I’ll eat
your food, but I won’t take your cigarettes,’” one man reported. They said that most
inmates fear raising complaints because the COs will retaliate. They reported that, unlike
at other prisons, inmates will not turn to sergeants or lieutenants for help. “I’ve been in
six different prisons,” one man said. “In those places you could go to a sergeant and work
things out or at least get a fair explanation as to why something was done. Here, you
wouldn’t even think about going to a sergeant.” Another inmate who has been in the
system “for years” countered: “The COs here are basically the same. There’s just a little
more ass-kicking.”
Another issue raised was the nearly all-white staff, as well as the lack of Spanish
interpreters, especially given Attica’s high percentage of Spanish-dominant inmates.
Nearly every Prison Visiting Committee member came across an inmate who was unable
to converse because of a language barrier. Inmates also lamented the lack of educational
opportunities. Once an inmate earns a GED, there are no other academic avenues to
pursue. The college program, they noted with frustration, is on the way out.
Meeting with Correction Officers
The six correction officers we interviewed struck us as seasoned and even-keeled.
When asked how they came to work in the field, one officer said he was “looking to get
into law enforcement”; the other officers cited job security, salary and retirement
benefits. When asked what they enjoy about the job, one officer said he likes working


with people—“I’ve seen a lot of different things and am a better person for it.” Others
noted the high level of security, which makes them feel safe, and the consistency between
policy and practice at Attica. There was a predictability about Attica that they
Regarding the downsides of the job, they complained mostly about the
paperwork—use of force reports can take hours to complete, they said. They spoke at
length about the negative public image of correction officers and how the nature of prison
work tarnishes their role as law enforcement professionals. They expressed great fear of
contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and TB from the prisoners, and of inmates obtaining
personal information about them. They expressed grave concerns about the Department’s
use of employees’ social security numbers on various administrative forms and the ease
with which inmate clerks can access this information. Interestingly, none of the officers
raised the issue of compensation, a chief complaint among COs generally and at
downstate prisons particularly.
In response to our question of how inmates may have changed over the years,
they said that inmates today are younger and more violent. They believe that inmates
have “little regard for human life,” and that there are more “inmates” today than
“convicts.” Convicts, they said, are men who “do their own time and don’t get caught up
in what goes on,” while inmates “worry about who controls the phones and who’s got the
We toured A and B cellblocks, where both general population and keeplock
inmates are housed, and a separate cellblock for inmates in a drug treatment program
known as RSAT (Residential Substance Abuse Treatment). Keeplock inmates in
cellblock B reported that the food portions are smaller than in the mess hall, and that their
meals invariably arrive cold after sitting at the end of the cellblock for an hour. Inmates
believe that the COs intentionally delay getting the food to them. They reported that the
showers are often broken. One Prison Visiting Committee member observed: “The
degradation and deprivation of being locked up in a small cell 23 hours a day, with one
hour to exercise, alone, in a 40 x 20 outdoor cage stretches one’s credibility as to the
sanity of our society.”
On a positive note, most inmates described the new administrative team—
Superintendent Herbert and his deputies—as responsive and fair. One inmate reported
that at other prisons he has been in, inmates had more problems with facility
administrators than with correction officers, but at Attica the opposite was true.
We toured the RSAT unit and spoke at length with several participants and the
director, who came across as well-qualified and committed to helping the men address
their drug addictions. The inmates were overwhelmingly positive about the program and
felt it was the first time they had received meaningful drug treatment behind bars. One
inmate said he had twice been sent to a SHU-200 for drug use. After each 90-day stint in


disciplinary lockdown, he relapsed within two weeks of returning to general population.
Now that he is in RSAT, he said, he is drug-free “for the first time in years.” Nearly 600
inmates are on the waiting list for the program, which can accommodate only 85 inmates
per six-month cycle.
Meeting with Executive Team
At the debriefing session with Superintendent Herbert, we asked about the drop in
GED test scores, and he said he would look into it. He noted that the high inmate
turnover makes learning and teaching difficult.
We raised the issue of staff misconduct, inmates’ reluctance to file grievances for
fear of retaliation, and the reputation of COs on the evening shift as “out of control.” The
Superintendent responded that the 50 to 60 grievance letters he receives from inmates
daily (each of which receives a written response, he noted) suggests that inmates are not
reluctant to file grievances. We were disturbed by the fact that he saw the high number of
grievances not as a problem but as an indicator that inmates are not afraid to speak out.
He added that there has been “a dramatic decline” in the number of pat frisking
complaints, despite what we heard from inmates.
We raised the grievances from inmates in keeplock, which the Superintendent
promised to investigate. He also said he would consider allowing mattresses in the
observation cells. (In a follow-up phone call several months later, he reported that the
observation cells now have mattresses.)




n November 16, 1999, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Auburn
Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for men in Auburn. On the
day of our visit, it was at capacity with 1,813 inmates.
Opened in 1817, Auburn is one of the oldest continuously operating prisons in
America. In fact, it seems as if the town of Auburn developed right around the prison.
The prison entrance—a massive wrought iron gate—stands just off a city sidewalk. A
towering stone wall separates the prison grounds from a gas station across the street.
Superintendent Hans Walker opened the meeting, noting that he has been at
Auburn for over a decade and is the Supervising Superintendent of the prison hub.
Auburn has 557 correction staff and 260 civilian staff. None of the correction officers, we
were told, speak Spanish.
Mental Health Services
We met first with the Associate Director of Operations for Central New York
Psychiatric Center (CNYPC), Dr. Karker, who explained that Auburn is one of eleven
New York state prisons with a Mental Health Satellite Unit. The unit contains five inpatient treatment beds and three observation cells for inmates on suicide watch. Two
psychiatrists (one of whom speaks Spanish), four full-time psychologists, and two social
workers oversee a caseload of approximately 200 inmates, of whom 142 are on
psychotropic medication.
We then toured various parts of the mental health unit, entering first a dark, foulsmelling corridor that held the three observation cells, one of which was occupied by a
man wrapped cocoon-like in a blanket. The CO stationed outside the cell said the inmate
had been like that for “a while,” refusing to talk or eat.
Intermediate Care Program (ICP)
The ICP holds 50 inmates classified as “unable to function in general population
due to the effects of mental illness.” According to a facility description, the program is
designed “to teach coping skills that will allow the inmate to return to general
population.” As we walked through the cellblock, a recreational therapist played Sorry
with three inmates while other prisoners watched TV or milled about, smoking or sitting
at tables. One inmate described the unit as “boring.” A counselor overheard and asked the
man if he would like to go back to general population.
The 182-year-old prison infrastructure presents daily challenges: leaking pipes
and occasionally no heat, which was the case on the day we visited. The atmosphere in


the cellblocks, and the prison generally, was dank and depressing. The cells are tiny:
measuring 48 square feet—the size of a bathroom. Some are actually double-bunked. The
only touches of color are family pictures taped to cell walls, and the occasional
cheesecake poster. We spoke with a number of men, many “lifers” and “long-termers,”
whose sense of hopelessness was palpable. They spoke with bitterness about program
cuts and the resulting idleness. Approximately 400 Auburn inmates (about 25% of the
total population) do not have program assignments. A man who had been locked up for
21 years lamented the loss of the college program and the lack of programs for long-term
inmates. He was half way through his master’s degree when the college program ended,
he said. He reported that the dwindling number of parole releases has added to inmates’
anger and despondency.
Inmates also mentioned a music program that had been cut several years before.
Their recent request for a choral group was denied. Recreation, too, is almost nonexistent, they said. Prisoners can spend time in the yard, which holds about 360 inmates
at a time, but there is little to do besides walk around or watch TV. As in other
maximum-security prisons, the TVs have been moved from the day rooms into the yards,
presumably to reduce congregate activity and fights.
We walked through the yard—it was snowing hard so we didn’t stay long—where
maybe a hundred inmates milled about, smoking or watching TV in the cold. Six
unarmed correction officers circulated among them (correction officers are not allowed to
carry weapons inside the prison), though there were several armed COs atop the wall and
in the towers.
We briefly toured the honor block, where there is an old black and white TV and
some board games. On the weekends, inmates are treated to a movie.
CorCraft is the industry program operated by DOCS that aims “to teach inmates
modern trade and occupational skills and work habits similar to those in private
industry.” There are 17 CorCraft factories, or “shops” as they’re known, throughout the
state prison system; Auburn’s, with 315 inmates, is the largest. The inmates make license
plates and furniture.
The supervisor explained that data on worker productivity is entered into a
computer so staff can monitor how fast the inmates are working and how they should be
compensated. “They have an incentive to work quickly,” the supervisor said. Starting pay
is seventeen cents an hour and peaks at forty-five cents. DOCS made $12 million in
revenue from the sale of Corcraft products in 1998.
Medical Clinic
The medical director has been at Auburn for ten years. Three staff physicians and
one physician’s assistant, he reported, provide primary care for inmates. The three


physicians are board certified and trained in various specialty areas such as surgery (as
opposed to primary care.)
He described staffing levels as “Okay…. we manage.” It takes “a week or two”
for an inmate to see a doctor. When we asked about the challenges of overseeing health
services for 2,000 inmates, he responded: “The inmates are getting older….They have
more chronic illnesses and immuno-deficiencies.” He was unsure of how many inmates
suffer from chronic illnesses such as diabetes, asthma or hypertension, or how many
inmates had active TB. He was uncertain about the number of inmates with HIV/AIDS or
hepatitis C, though he cited the Department figure that approximately 10% of male
inmates have HIV/AIDS. Assuming this figure is correct, Auburn would have about 200
inmates who are HIV-positive, yet only 60, according to the doctor, receive antiretroviral therapy.
For Spanish-speaking inmates, he said they use inmate-interpreters, which he did
not seem to believe posed confidentiality problems. Departing inmates on prescription
medication are given a week’s supply, he thought, and then added, “But I think parole
takes care of that.” With regard to quality control, he said that the physicians periodically
review medical records to ensure follow up appointments occur, but there are no quality
assurance mechanisms beyond that activity in place.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with three male correction officers, all union representatives, with 27
years, 29 years and 12 years on the job. The biggest issue for them was staffing
shortages. Although staffing has been a union concern for the past 20 years, they said, the
problem has gotten worse. In particular, they need more sergeants because sergeants are
the only security staff permitted to carry handcuffs. They also need more COs, they said.
Only five COs and one sergeant are assigned to the yard, for example, and can be easily
overwhelmed by the 300-plus inmates who can be in the yard at one time.
The positive aspects of the job are convenience (“I’m five minutes from home,”
one CO said), a “supportive” culture and officer camaraderie. It is hard not to bring the
job home, they said, and some officers drink a lot to cope with the stress.
When we asked how they view the inmates, one CO responded, “I don’t trust
none of ‘em, but I’ll rely on some of them.” When asked what words came to mind in
describing inmates, they replied, “young,” “gang member,” and “from the streets.” They
reported, “Gangs are getting real bad lately, becoming more visible.” Inmates join gangs
for protection and to avoid extortion. Gang members use a cryptic hand language, which
changes continually and is difficult for correction staff to decipher. They expressed a
need for better gang intelligence training and Spanish classes so they can understand
what inmates are saying. They said they often turn to the older inmates for help in
keeping younger inmates in line and showing them how to adapt to prison life.


With regard to mental illness among inmates, the COs felt that mental health
services are insufficient. “The situation here is bad. There are too many inmates who
need help and not enough help to go around.” It takes several days to see a psychologist,
they said, which is often too late. They felt that the deinstitutionalization of people with
mental illness from hospitals has created huge problems for people who work in prisons,
where many of the mentally ill end up.
We had heard from inmates that drugs are easily available in the prison, which the
COs did not deny. Drugs come in through visits, they said, or employees looking to
supplement their income.
Regarding the use of force, the COs confirmed inmate reports that more uses of
force occur on the evening shift (3 p.m. to 11 p.m.) than the day shift (7 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
They attributed the higher use of force on the evening shift to the fact that “inmates have
more unstructured time on their hands” in the evenings, when programs and school are
over. They rejected the theory that more junior officers are assigned to the evening shift
and are typically less skilled in resolving conflict. “We have guys with lots of seniority
who work evenings,” a CO said. “It’s mostly old timers working those shifts.”
Feedback from Inmates
Many of the inmates we spoke with raised the issue of staff misconduct. A
situation that inmates discussed with vehemence concerned a man who was allegedly set
up by a CO in retaliation for filing a Code 49, or staff misconduct report. Apparently,
several officers removed the inmate, who was in keeplock, from his cell and then
“jumped and beat him.” Another case involved an “inmate beat down” that was so bad
that the man had to be taken to an outside hospital. Apparently, the outside doctors were
so concerned about the condition of the inmate that they called the state police. The
Inspector General’s office is currently looking into the incident.
A third incident they raised was an inmate death. The inmate, who was housed in
the SHU, apparently died when officials used pepper spray to extract a neighboring
inmate from his cell. The spray drifted into the victim’s cell, which prompted a severe
asthma attack and ultimately asphyxiation. (Chemical agents are known to cause severe
harm to people with pulmonary illness.) The incident points to severe breaches in medical
and security protocol.
According to the prisoners, “There is no recourse for CO abuse.” Medical staff,
particularly nurses—some of whom are married or related to correction officers, the
inmates said—do nothing about it. “They tell the COs that unless an inmate’s dying,
don’t bring him over here.” Inmates said they are punished with keeplock if they sign up
for sick call but are not “sick enough.”
Officer conduct during the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift is “out of control,” according to
the inmates. “Those officers don’t have to answer to anyone. They know when the watch
commander checks in and leaves, and then it’s back to the cowboy mentality.” Pat frisks,


they believe, are conducted without justification and in a manner meant to provoke them.
Although frisks are supposed to be conducted with a supervisor present, they are more
often conducted first and then a supervisor is called. “They [the COs] violate the directive
and clean up later.”
They said that officer misconduct ranges from simple harassment to outright
abuse. We asked for an example. An officer might use a metal detector wand on an
inmate’s muddy shoes, one man said, then place the wand on another inmate’s head just
to provoke him. In another ploy to incite behavior that will justify a beating, officers in
the SHU receiving area are known to tell the inmate, who is surrounded by three officers,
to spread his legs and place his hands against the wall. He is then told to remove his left
boot with his right hand while “remaining on the wall.” If he loses his balance, he can be
beaten for “coming off the wall.”
Inmates said they can never prove staff misconduct because the system is
designed to work against them. When an inmate files a Code 49, the Superintendent asks
a captain or sergeant to investigate the complaint. “Of course the sergeant’s a buddy of
the accused,” said an inmate. “Of course the charges are dismissed…. For an officer to
escape a Code 49, all he has to do is deny the charges and the charge is considered
without merit.” Another man noted: “The executive team doesn’t know what’s going on,
and by the time anything gets to them it’s been sanitized.”
Not all correction staff treats them badly, they said, and several inmates gave us
the names of COs whom they consider professional. “It’s the better educated officers who
know how to deal with inmates,” one man said. Another suggested hiring COs with more
“life experience,” and providing ongoing sensitivity training. They also think cameras
should be installed in all areas of the SHU and that escorts to the SHU should be
On a positive note, the inmates gave high marks to the drafting class and
computer class.
Meeting with Executive Team
We discussed the many complaints we received about correction officer
misconduct and learned that Code 49s are never noted in officers’ personnel files. Neither
Central Office nor the facility systematically tracks inmate allegations against staff. The
whole issue is fraught with problems: it is difficult to get at the truth when “convicted
felons” are the primary source of information, and the closed nature of prison makes
penetrating the blue wall of silence even more difficult.
Superintendent Walker mentioned that he had once been a watch commander on
the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift, and he “knew what went on.” Most of the rookie officers
work on this shift, he reported, and they are not permanently assigned to the prison. They
are transient staff whose main concern is keeping order. They have no long-term
investment in building consensus with inmates. He said that aggressive frisking occurs on


the evening shift because there is more recreation and yard time and thus a greater
opportunity for illegal activity involving weapons or drugs. The officers are merely
protecting themselves and the inmates.
Superintendent Walker offered several solutions to reduce tension and problems
on the evening shift. More supervisory staff would help, he said, as would rotating staff.
He cited “unstructured recreation” time as a cause of increased aggression, and said he
would like the inmates to vote to install televisions in individual cells. “TVs in cells are a
great babysitter.” He believes that TVs might reduce use of force incidents during the
evening shift.
He was troubled to hear that COs feel unsafe due to staff cuts. Unlike at other
prisons, he said, Auburn “didn’t lose a single sergeant” because of budget cuts. With
regard to cameras in the SHU, he said that his budget request for cameras was approved
four years ago but they hadn’t yet received them. (When we returned to Auburn in
November 2001, a state-of-the art camera system was in operation.)




n September 25, 1998, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Beacon
Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison for women in Dutchess
County, about an hour’s drive from Manhattan. The prison was at capacity, with 257
inmates the day of our visit.
Beacon Correctional Facility is known as a “camp” because of its low security
level and is located less than a mile from Fishkill Correctional Facility, a mediumsecurity prison for men. It is a cluster of prefab buildings with neither walls nor gates on
lush and landscaped grounds. Beneath large pine trees were flower and vegetable
gardens, well tended by the inmates. We were told that deer roam the grounds.
Superintendent Susan Schultz, formerly the Deputy Superintendent of
Administration at Bedford Correctional Facility, has been at Beacon since 1997. She gave
us a brief overview of the facility, emphasizing that the focus at Beacon is community
service. Each day, 140 inmates on outside work crews perform a range of public services:
they paint churches, lay sidewalks, and plant gardens. Beacon receives many letters of
appreciation from local citizens and requests for repeat services. The Superintendent said
the program strengthens community relations and gives the inmates the opportunity to
perform good deeds.
We observed an Adult Basic Education (ABE) class and Alcohol and Substance
Abuse Treatment (ASAT) session, both of which were well attended. The Program
Administrator explained that for inmates to receive merit time (a one-sixth reduction of
their sentence) they must satisfy one of the following criteria:

Receipt of GED;
Completion of ASAT;
Completion of a vocational program; or
400 hours of community service.

The problem, however, is that there are long waiting lists to get into ABE and
GED classes given the shortages of both space and staff. There is only one classroom
(which holds only 15 inmates) and one teacher for both GED and ABE classes. Many
women, some of whom are illiterate according to the staff, never get into academic
classes. Instead, they are assigned to a work crew and leave prison “unable to fill out a
job application.”
Beacon also has a horticulture program. We walked through the greenhouse and
spoke with several inmates. They said they liked the program but didn’t know how they
could use horticulture skills in New York City, where most of them will return. Program
staff said the Department offers too few programs to prepare female inmates for jobs in


urban areas where clerical, technical and service-related skills, including computer
proficiency, are prerequisites. The Program Administrator mentioned that Beacon
recently received a donation of computers, but they have no place to set up a classroom.
He then led us through the kitchen, where we saw participants in the food service
program. He noted that this kind of training is particularly relevant for inmates returning
to the city. However, in order to join the food service program or Corcraft, one must have
a GED.
The facility description reports that Beacon is a “pre-release” facility whose
function is “to introduce to the inmates a wide range of instructional programs, so as to
better prepare them for their eventual reintegration into the community.” We asked to see
the pre-release area.
The unit consisted of a small office staffed by three inmates, who were reading
novels when we entered. A Prison Visiting Committee member asked where the prerelease counselors were and was told she was looking at them. These inmates serve as
“job counselors,” and help inmates prepare their resumes, learn job-seeking strategies and
occasionally find employment. When asked how they prepare resumes, an inmate pointed
to several dusty computers, which she said were broken. “But the typewriter works
okay,” she added. To help inmates find jobs, she gives them the Yellow Pages.
The two housing units we toured—unpainted concrete buildings—were stark and
depressing. The walls on women’s cubicles were devoid of pictures, cards or personal
effects. Inmates said that the no-pictures policy was new, and they saw it as unnecessarily
The dorms consisted of row upon row of steel bunk beds and small metal
lockers—a study in gray. A major source of frustration for the inmates is the lack of
privacy, especially for women on the top bunk who are exposed to public view when they
are lying in bed. There are no chairs in the cubicles; just a bunk bed and two small
Medical Clinic
Beacon has no onsite physician, just a physician’s assistant, a nurse and a parttime nurse. They screen inmates, make referrals to physicians at Fishkill and dispense
medication. The clinic is a small prefab unit with an examining room. Sick call is held on
Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The ILC had prepared a list of concerns and an agenda. Their most pressing issues
were inadequate medical treatment and lack of useful programs. When we asked how


they would rate medical services at Beacon, one woman asked, “We have medical
services here?”
Her response gave way to a litany of complaints, some of which seasoned Prison
Visiting Committee members said were among the worst they had heard. Most alarming
were reports that inmates are sometimes given double dosages of medication. “I’ve seen
inmates with their faces blown up from double doses of medication, passing out in front
of officers,” one inmate reported. Situations like this occur, we were told, because there
are no medical staff at Beacon on the weekends. Because some medications can only be
taken under direct observation, inmates are given a weekend’s supply of meds and have
been known (or told, apparently) to take it all at once. HIV-positive inmates have
allegedly received the wrong medication. One inmate said she was given HIV medication
even though she is not HIV-positive. She became very sick and went to the clinic. The
physician’s assistant admitted to her that she had mistakenly been given HIV medication
and told her not to tell anyone.
Inmates unanimously reported that they are not informed of medication side
effects. In addition, there are no provisions for Spanish-speaking inmates to learn about
their medication—not only how much they should take, but why they should take it, as
well as possible side effects. Inmates also reported that medical staff dismisses their
concerns about Lyme disease. Beacon inmates live and work in an environment densely
populated with deer, and inmates who have manifested the telltale Lyme symptom, a red
rash in the form of a “bull’s eye,” are given Tylenol and told to ignore it. We
recommended in our letter to the Superintendent, Commissioner and Chief Medical
Officer that educational brochures on Lyme disease be developed and distributed to
inmates and medical staff, which was done.
The more serious complaints concerned medical staff overriding and/or ignoring
doctors’ and specialists’ treatment plans and prescribed medications, not taking vital
signs as a standard triage procedure and refusing to physically examine patients. One
inmate described a situation in which she had a large and painful cyst on her groin, which
the medical staff member apparently refused to examine, saying, “I don’t need to see it.”
As with medical services, it was evident that Beacon inmates’ mental health needs
are not being met. Reliance on Fishkill’s Office of Mental Health (OMH) staff for mental
health services means lengthy delays in seeing a counselor. One inmate reported that she
had a pressing personal issue and needed to speak with a counselor. Three weeks later a
counselor gave the inmate ten minutes of her time and summed up the session saying
there was “nothing she could do.”
Finally, inmates expressed a “desperate need” for a Beacon-designated parole
officer. It was reported that inmates’ case summaries are not received until either the day
of or weeks after parole board appearances, and that can sometimes delay an inmate’s
release by 30 days. Such delays violate inmates’ rights and burden taxpayers with undue
incarceration costs.


Meeting with Executive Team
The discussion with the administrative team was cordial and constructive. We
began by noting that inmates throughout the facility described correction officers as
humane and professional. In fact, not one visitor received a complaint about officer
mistreatment, rare for any prison.
We reported the many serious complaints we received around medical care, of
which the administration seemed well aware. The Superintendent did not deny the
veracity of the inmates’ complaints and promised to work with Central Office’s Health
Services Division to improve them. (Several months after our visit, the Department
assigned a physician to Beacon part-time.)
Our observations about the lack of programs struck a chord with the
Superintendent. She seemed genuinely sad and disturbed that the women leave prison so
unprepared to succeed. “When inmates leave here and can’t even fill out a job
application, their chances of returning are compounded. It breaks my heart,” she said. She
said she is struggling to get the budget allocations she needs to bolster the program
With regard to mental health services, she recognized that female prisoners often
have greater difficulty adjusting to incarceration than men since so many are mothers and
are separated from their children. She reported that she has identified a social worker in
the community who could begin work if funding were available. (The Department later
allocated funds for a part-time social worker.)




n June 22, 2001, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Clinton Correctional
Facility, a maximum-security prison for men located near the Canadian
border. Opened in 1845 and housing 2,959 inmates, Clinton is the state’s largest prison. It
includes a medium-security annex, a unit for victim-prone inmates and, with the
reenactment of the death penalty in 1995, death row, officially known as the “Unit for
Condemned Persons.”
Superintendent Daniel Senkowski provided an overview of the facility,
emphasizing that the number of inmates in disciplinary confinement (mainly keeplock)
had dropped from approximately 700 to 200 inmates since the expansion of supermax
housing units across the state.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The ILC described Clinton as “the worst prison in the state as far as staff-inmate
relations.” They reported that the grievance system does not function and most
grievances brought against officers (known as Code 49s) are deemed without merit.
When grievances are received by the Inmate Grievance Resolution Committee, they are
coded by inmate assistants but are often re-coded and then dismissed by a sergeant.
Unlike Woodbourne, Auburn and Eastern Correctional Facilities, they said, Clinton does
not have an independent investigator to examine the merit of grievances brought against
staff. The investigator is a sergeant and part of the “good old boys’ club,” they said. They
suggested that, at least in the SHU and on death row, an independent civilian should
collect grievances.
Inmates reported that they are subject to intense harassment for filing a charge of
staff misconduct, and that some COs do not wear their nametags (a violation of
Department rules) to evade identification. The intimidation most frequently involves
antagonistic, hyper-aggressive pat frisking, whereby COs reportedly run their batons
between inmates’ legs. Inmates feel they are provoked to move or flinch (“come away
from the wall”) so officers have a reason to write them up.
A related problem is the one-sided nature of investigative hearings for Tier II and
Tier III tickets. “We don’t have a fighting chance when it comes to a hearing,” they said.
They reported that more tickets are being issued now that inmates are charged five dollars
for every Tier II and Tier III ticket.
The next issue raised was the woeful medical services. Medical services were
described as atrocious. “You have to drop ten sick call slips to be seen,” an inmate said.
A particular problem is the correction officer posted at the entrance to the clinic, who
apparently tells inmates to leave if he considers them insufficiently ill to receive medical
attention. Inmates also reported that sick call nurses rarely have patient medical records


available or take vital signs during screening. Finally, patient confidentiality is regularly
breached during consultations with nurses or physicians. “There’s always a CO right
there,” they said.
Another source of frustration is idleness. Currently, 300 inmates have no program
assignment. “It takes 4 or 5 months just to get a porter job,” they said.
Another concern was treatment of visitors. Inmates told of friends and family
members who were intimidated and treated rudely by the COs. Finally, the ILC requested
we ask the Superintendent about the Caribbean-African Unity Group. They reported that
the administration rejected it without an explanation.
Overall, feedback from the ILC suggested a prison run by COs, the majority of
whom were born and raised in Dannemora and have many relatives working in the
prison. They did, however, offer positive feedback about the Superintendent and his First
Deputy. “I’ve never met two administrators who are more respectful,” one man said.
Intermediate Care Program (ICP)
The 60 inmates in the unit suffer from varying degrees of mental illness; the most
common diagnosis is schizophrenia, according to the program coordinator. ICP inmates
are segregated from general population at all times. The coordinator said that
approximately 11 inmates were released from the ICP directly to the community during
the last year.
The unit is amply programmed, with areas for leather working and ceramics, a
computer, an electronic piano keyboard, and tables for playing cards and games. Inmates
have access to a washing machine and dryer on the unit. A kitchen with a stove and sink
was partitioned off for inmates to practice daily living skills, such as remembering to
wash their hands before handling food. Outside were large vegetable and flower gardens
tended by the inmates.
Medical Clinic
By far, Clinton’s clinic is more beset by problems than any we have seen in the
system. Its location in a wing of the prison that requires inmates, weakened or ill, to walk
through seemingly endless dank corridors and up several flights of stairs and ramps, is
the first problem. The unit itself, unlike more modern clinics we have seen elsewhere,
was dingy, old and in need of renovation. It was clear to us that, with over 2,000
prisoners, Clinton is the largest facility in the system and should have a Regional Medical
Unit. (There are five Regional Medical Units in the state prison system. Similar to
hospitals in the community, they provide enhanced medical services to inmates with subacute, chronic or terminal medical conditions.)
Staffing shortages are another serious concern. The acting medical director, who
is not board-certified and appeared disgruntled and demoralized, stated that the needs of


Clinton’s large and aging population cannot be met with current staffing levels. One of
two pharmacist positions has been vacant for fifteen months. The facility also needs more
nursing items and physician assistants, he reported.
Medical staff indicated that no type of quality assurance is conducted. We were
struck by the inability of both the medical director and the nurse administrator to answer
our most basic questions, such the number of inmates receiving HIV/AIDS medication,
how treatment and compliance are monitored and how quality assurance is performed.
We left with the impression that the clinic is functioning in crisis mode and that serious
gaps in service and treatment could have caused life-threatening situations.
Mental Health Services
There are 340 inmates, 15% of the general population, on the OMH caseload; 300
inmates are on psychotropic medication. There are 22 staff members, two of whom are
full-time psychiatrists, one of whom speaks Spanish. The day room and the seven dorm
beds were empty. Two of the three observation cells were occupied. The inmates in the
observation cells each had a mattress, two large mats and clothing.
As at other facilities, the unit chief reported that many of the same inmates cycle
between the SHU, where they decompensate, to observation cells. He said he sends at
least six inmates a year to Central New York Psychiatric Center (CNYPC). Twelve of the
36 inmates in the SHU were on the OMH caseload; eight were on psychotropic meds.
The discharge planner reported that least 50 inmates on the OMH caseload are
released from Clinton each year. More than half go to New York City shelters. In the
three years she has been at Clinton, she has only been able to find three inmates
supportive housing in the city. She uses teleconferencing to facilitate interviews between
inmates and therapeutic program staff throughout the state.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with six male COs, all of whom had at least 10 years on the job and
entered the field for a variety of reasons, none of which had to do with an interest in
corrections. Two officers wanted to be state troopers; one man, a former truck driver,
wanted more time with his family, and another said his mother encouraged him to take
the test. The fifth officer applied because he knew he was “not college material.” The
sixth entered the field after the store he managed was closed.
The officers all said that the camaraderie at the prison was the greatest upside of
the job. Most staff members, security and civilian alike, are from Dannemora and call
Clinton their “home facility.” They reported that they feel safe knowing that a friend or
relative “has [their] back.” The COs consider Clinton safer than it was ten years ago. The
officers are more “seasoned,” they said, and the construction of supermax facilities such
as the S-Blocks and Upstate have helped make Clinton safer. They also conduct more pat


frisks, which leads to fewer confrontations with armed inmates and less violence, they
The officers denied inmates’ allegations of hostile pat frisks. Inmates at Clinton
are not new to the system, they said—“This is not their first rodeo”—and know when
“they’re being messed with.” They countered that there would not be such “low
numbers” of staff assaults if the officers were systematically abusive. (This statement
contradicts information we received prior to the visit: that there were 500 inmate-on-staff
assaults in 2000 alone.)
The officers did not bemoan their rate of pay as vehemently as officers in prisons
closer to New York City. They believe the facility needs more security staff, more
Spanish-speaking COs, and more programs for inmates to reduce the idleness.
Assessment and Program Preparation Unit
The APPU is designed for inmates who have committed notorious crimes or may
have enemies in the general population. Inmates include former police officers,
correction officers, and men receiving sex-change hormone therapy. They are housed in a
separate wing of the prison and have no interaction with general population inmates.
Inmates with whom we spoke had similar concerns as those in general population:
poor medical services and hostility from COs, particularly those in the visiting room.
Inmates reported feeling safe, overall, and they appreciated being isolated from the
general population.
Special Housing Unit
The SHU comprises 36 cells, all of which were occupied. We could see from the
logbook that the medical and OMH staff conduct daily rounds. One inmate reported that
his requests for counseling had gone unanswered; he added that he hasn’t seen a doctor
despite numerous sick call requests and unfilled prescriptions for various medications.
Inmates complained about lack of access to the law library. Systemwide, library
clerks are not permitted inside the SHU. Questions or requests for materials must be
submitted to the CO, who relays them to a clerk. A list of reference books is available,
but not all inmates were aware of it.
Several inmates believe their mail is intentionally delayed or tampered with. They
also told of having their time in the yard cut short because the CO does not want to be
outside. Almost all of the men reported that their food often arrives cold. Apparently,
there is a hot table for heating food trays, but it is rarely used.


Unit for Condemned Persons (UCP)
Death row is located in the same building as the SHU. It has 12 cells, each
measuring 72 square feet (larger than the standard 48-square-foot cells.) Constructed in
1995 with the reinstatement of the death penalty, the unit is modern and high-tech in
design, similar to a control unit. It was spotless and quiet when we entered.
The Superintendent emphasized that Central Office—not Clinton Correctional
Facility—governs death row policy and procedures. Currently, there are six men on the
unit. The Superintendent said that they file few grievances and do not cause any trouble.
Overall, he said, the unit runs smoothly. He took us first to the corridor running along the
back of the cells, where visits with attorneys and immediate family members are
conducted. Each cell has a back door that opens up to a small area with a stool and a
Plexiglas divider separating the prisoner from his visitor.
The Superintendent walked down the cellblock to inform the prisoners that we
were on the unit and asked if they wanted to speak with us. He suggested that they might
not be interested in contact with outsiders. Five of the six men did, however, and each
man spent about half an hour with a visitor. A number of complaints were raised.
The men were most distressed (one man used the word “tortured”) by the
overhead fluorescent light that shines in their cell twenty-four hours a day, and the
constant video surveillance. The light is necessary for video surveillance, the
Superintendent said, which is a suicide prevention measure. (Infrared technology and
other measures, such as more frequent officer rounds, would alleviate the need for such
intense scrutiny.) Inmates unanimously reported that they have difficulty sleeping;
several men described the constant light and surveillance as maddening.
Similarly, inmates reported a lack of confidentiality during legal visits and in-cell
phone calls to attorneys. Sound travels easily down the tier; inmates and COs can easily
overhear conversations. Given the serious nature of their cases and the fact that they are
facing a sentence of death, the lack of privacy is a serious issue. The men said they are
reluctant to share sensitive information about their cases. “Every word can be heard,” a
prisoner said.
Another source of frustration is the restriction of visits to immediate family
members. The condemned can only receive visits from spouses, parents, siblings or
children. A life partner, childhood friend, aunt, cousin or uncle cannot visit. Several of
the men said that while their immediate relatives do not visit them, they have friends or
other relatives who could. They also lamented the policy of no physical contact during
Their isolated nature of their confinement and no opportunity for human touch
contributed to their despair. Unlike inmates on death rows in some other states, such as
California and New Jersey, New York’s condemned remain locked in their cell 24 hours
a day except for an hour of court-mandated recreation. There are no group activities or


day room. Recreation is a solitary activity: inmates are confined, alone, in a large
concrete outdoor cage with no exercise equipment, not even a ball. The men requested
some form of exercise equipment, such as a chin-up bar mounted in concrete. They also
requested gloves during the winter months. Gloves are denied due to “security reasons,”
an officer said.
Finally, inmates complained about the restriction on commissary purchases to $15
per month, while general population inmates can buy $55 worth of goods twice a month.
This policy struck us as artificial and overly harsh.
Overall, New York’s death row resembles a more punitive and harsher form of
disciplinary lockdown, although the condemned have done nothing as prisoners to
warrant this type of punishment.
Merle Cooper Program
The Merle Cooper program, established in 1977 for inmates with difficulty
adjusting to the prison environment, is unique to Clinton. Of the 75 participants, many
are sex offenders. Admission is voluntary but inmates must be willing to discuss their
crimes and examine their patterns of criminal behavior. Counselors conduct aggression
replacement therapy groups and other educational and therapeutic programs. Inmates we
spoke with seemed upbeat and involved in the program. They had uniformly positive
feedback and said they were glad to be able to participate.
Meeting with Executive Team
We began by discussing the mixed reports we received from inmates concerning
treatment by correction officers. Grievances against COs are high, but inmates we spoke
with in general population housing areas did not report intimidation by officers at a rate
that reflected the grievance numbers. In response to complaints about the biased nature of
grievance investigations, the Superintendent explained that according to directive, the
investigating sergeant should be rotated according to a schedule. He agreed to examine
whether this is occurring.
Regarding the Caribbean-African Unity Group, the executive team reported that
the list of interested members contained inmates believed to be involved in gang
activities. A Deputy Superintendent explained that a “suitable membership structure” is
required before the group can be approved.
We discussed the serious problems with medical services, particularly staff
shortages, impeded access and widespread inmate complaints about substandard care,
confidentiality breaches and ignored requests for medical attention. The Superintendent
did not disagree with our findings, but noted that vacancies are exceedingly difficult to
fill because of the low salary. Most applicants are physicians from foreign countries who
are trying to gain U.S. citizenship he said. He is currently considering two physicians
from India for the open physician position.


The Superintendent said he had not heard complaints from SHU inmates about
mail being tampered with. He explained that COs are not required to be outside during
SHU recreation time, so it did not seem likely that officers were cutting recreation time
when the weather was not agreeable. We noted inmates’ complaints about cold food and
reports that the mental health and medical staff have no meaningful interaction with
inmates during their rounds.




n October 19, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Collins
Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison for men about 30 miles south
of Buffalo. Located across the road from Gowanda, another medium-security prison,
Collins has two separate “campuses,” Collins I and II, which appear to have no
differences aside from being located across from each other. The prison also has a
Protective Custody unit for inmates deemed “victim prone” (i.e. former police officers,
correction officers, or high-profile prisoners) and a SHU-200 for inmates in disciplinary
We met first with Superintendent James Berbary and his executive team. They
gave us a brief overview of the facility—noting that it is designed for inmates with 60
months left before their first parole board hearing. He approved our agenda, and we
began the tour.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
There are two ILC’s at Collins, representing the two different sides of the prison,
and we met with both groups separately. They described Collins as well-run and calm.
“We don’t have too many problems here, fights, cuttings, etc. People come here to do
their time and relax.” One inmate noted that the COs “do their job and don’t go out of
their way to harass you.” An inmate who spent many years in maximum-security prisons
said he has “never heard a racial epithet” in the two years he has been at Collins.
The paramount issue raised by both groups was their desire for a unified (single)
ILC that would meet with the administration monthly, rather than separate committees
that meet every other month. Inmates housed on opposite campuses have no contact with
each other, they said. They are unable to collaborate and sometimes duplicate efforts.
They feel powerless to bring about change, which has led to backlash from their inmate
constituents. Each group noted, however, that they appreciated their CO advisors and
found the Deputy Superintendents and captains responsive to their requests.
They raised a number of grievances. The visiting room is too small; sometimes
visits have to be terminated to accommodate other inmates’ visitors. The commissary is
poorly stocked compared to other prison commissaries. Regarding health care, their main
grievance concerned dental care. They added that inmates are confused about hepatitis C
and need education about treatment and symptoms. They spent considerable time
discussing two physical plant issues: the quality of the water and sewage backups.
Inmates said the water is often brown and COs bring their own bottled water into the
facility to avoid drinking from the tap. Prisoners are not permitted to receive sealed
bottles of water through the package room.
They also noted that several times a year, sewage backs up in the basement and
inmates have to clean up the raw waste. They are given a ticket if they refuse.


Apparently, the clean-up crew feels they are at risk for contracting hepatitis or other
diseases. “They give them a Shop-Vac, some rubber gloves, leaky old boots and a dust
mask and tell them to go down and clean it up.”
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with five COs and began by asking them why they entered corrections.
Three cited job security and benefits. Another had a relative in the field who encouraged
him to take the exam. Another lost his job at the local steel mill. With regard to the
upsides of the job, the officers unanimously pointed to the flexibility of work schedules.
They said they can swap shifts with co-workers. “We can get almost any day off we want
to,” one CO happily noted. “I have the whole six weeks of duck hunting season off.”
We asked how they cope with the job stress. One CO said he’s grateful for his
long commute because it allows him time to “chill-out.” Another said he talks to his coworkers. “You don’t want to bring it home,” he said. “And people who don’t work on the
inside can’t understand you anyway.” “You just make the best of it and do what you gotta
do,” said another.
We asked why they chose to work at Collins instead of neighboring Gowanda.
They preferred Collins’s schedule they said, where the day shift goes from 7 a.m. to 3
p.m. versus 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
We asked what they would change about their jobs. They said they would like to
be able to find out if an inmate whose blood or saliva has gotten on them “has AIDS.”
Another said he would like to have packages eliminated and personal property eliminated
because they breed extortion, gambling and drugs. Another officer suggested abolishing
TVs as a way to reduce fights over which program to watch. One CO noted that putting a
dog next to the metal detector in the visiting room would help curb the drug trade. When
a visitor expressed surprise at the amount of drugs in the prison, the officers laughed.
“They [the inmates] live the same in prison as they did on the streets. We’re the cops, this
is their community and we patrol it.”
With regard to public image, they felt that correction officers deserve more
respect. “We’re not just turnkeys,” one officer said. “We should be given credit for the
counseling we do.” This prompted another officer’s thought that they should have “more
input on parole hearings. We work with a guy every day for years and we know the type
of worker and person he is. He may have committed a crime all strung out on drugs, but
we know who he is today and would probably know better than anyone if it would
happen again.”
We asked them to describe the inmates generally and if the population has
changed over the years. They used words such as, “younger,” “no respect,” “violent,”
“crack heads,” and “punks.” One officer said today’s inmates have no “max” experience,
meaning time in a maximum-security prison. “They have no education, no morals, and


they just don’t care.” A second CO characterized the inmates as “brain dead…incoherent.
They look at you like a deer caught in head lights.”
With regard to the facility’s executive team, they gave them high marks and said
they appreciated the open-door policy. “They are very supportive. Collins is like a
Protective Custody Unit
The Protective Custody unit currently houses 110 inmates, men who are
considered victim prone in general population, i.e. former police officers, correction
officers, informants. After several years, some of the inmates will be able to transition
safely into general population at a different prison.
The unit is housed in its own ranch-style building with an outdoor recreation area,
mess hall and classrooms. The inmates are packed into a crowded dormitory, formerly a
gym with no windows, where the only personal space they have is the bunk bed they
sleep on and a small locker. The fifty or so men we spoke with had a host of complaints,
mainly about retaliation from COs for filing grievances (officers were said to threaten
them with misbehavior reports on trumped-up charges), and about a specific counselor
who makes snide remarks, threatens to transfer them if they file a grievance, and who
does little to help them with personal matters as counselors are required to do. They
complained about the lack of activities for children in the visiting room and that they
cannot take pictures of their visitors. Other prisons have “Click-Click” programs where
inmates can pay for Polaroid pictures taken with a facility camera. One inmate said he
offered to buy a camera for the facility but was denied.
Above all, the PC inmates want their own ILC. They feel they have no formal
channel to communicate grievances to the administration, which they believe is
particularly important given the hostility of the chief counselor on the unit and the
retaliation from correction officers.
On the walk to the SHU-200, Superintendent Berbary said he takes pride in the
staff who work there and their efficient management. Similar to the other SHU-200s
(there are nine throughout the system), Collins’ SHU-200 is a freestanding, fully
automated, double-celled disciplinary unit where 200 inmates are confined for violating
rules in their home facility. Two men are confined in each cell around the clock, save for
an hour of legally required “recreation,” which entails stepping into an empty outdoor
cage attached to the back of their cell. The only program is cell study. The average length
of stay, according to the administration, is approximately thirty days, which is the lowest
we have heard in any SHU.
Two committee members spoke with approximately twenty inmates through the
food slots in thick metal doors, alternating between kneeling and squatting so that they


could make eye contact during conversations and avoid having to shout through the
speaking patch in the door.
Some of the inmates appeared indifferent to the restrictive conditions. Others
spoke bitterly about specific problems on the unit. The most common complaint
concerned medical care: unresponsiveness from health care staff; nurses who conduct
medical examinations by shouting through the door and drawing blood through the food
slots; the treatment of all ailments with Tylenol. Requests for medical attention go
unanswered for days, inmates said. Several inmates said the food arrives cold or in small
portions. Many inmates had graduated to Level II or III in the Progressive Inmate
Movement System (PIMS), entitling them to such privileges as a deck of cards and cell
study. The cell study program and teachers received high marks from inmates.
Several inmates had been in other SHU-200s before and compared Collins’s unit
favorably. The COs treat them better, they said, make more rounds and are more
responsive to their requests for assistance.
Inmates in the dormitories confirmed the ILCs’ depiction of Collins as a calm and
relatively tension-free facility. They had few complaints aside from the “brown” water,
drafts in the winter and regularly malfunctioning showers. Several of the inmates had
spent time at Gowanda Correctional Facility, which we had visited the day before. As did
the inmates we met at Gowanda, they described the officers there as abusive, racist and
predatory. “They threaten you constantly,” one inmate said. “They’ll visit you at night or
catch you in the elevator and threaten to set you up if you grieve them.” One inmate, who
did time in the Gowanda SHU, said that the COs would open the food slot in his cell
door, and if he wasn’t there to receive the tray immediately, that they would ram it
through the slot so the contents would spill onto the floor. Another inmate reported being
kicked in the back while being transported in handcuffs out of the unit. He was kicked
from behind and caught by another officer in front of him. According to the inmate, the
COs said it was their way of warning him not to return to the SHU. The prisoners were
happy to be at Collins instead of Gowanda.
Transitional Services Unit
The counselors we met said that as of January 2001, the Department will require
all inmates, system-wide, to participate in the new transitional services program that
orients new inmates to the system and assists those on their way out. The staff struck us
as particularly dedicated and professional. They outlined the program in detail and spoke
at length about how they assist inmates in identifying community resources (jobs,
affordable housing, apprenticeships and community colleges) before they leave. They did
not have a computer to generate resumes, however, or print professional letters for
corresponding with outside agencies.


We were favorably impressed with the academic and vocational programs. There
are classes in ABE, pre-GED and ESL. Despite the large population, the waiting list of 42
inmates for pre-GED classes is one of the lowest we have seen. A computer lab has
academic tutorials to supplement classroom lessons. Also unusual was a small college
program. Inmates can earn a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts through the Consortium of
Niagara Frontier, a privately run group whose trustees kept the college program alive
after the state ended the tuition assistance for prisoners.
The facility provides vocational training in plumbing and heating, food service,
drafting, masonry, general business and small engine repair. Inmates in the food service
program run a small café (for staff) and work as waiters, cooks and dishwashers. We ate
lunch in the café—a sunny, cheery place with pub-fare type food at rock bottom prices.
We attended an Aggression Replacement Therapy (ART) class and were
impressed with the inmate instructor and his presentation on conflict resolution. Inmates
can also participate in the Youth Assistance Program, which works with at-risk youth
from the community.
Medical Clinic
We met briefly with the medical director and acting nurse administrator. They
answered our questions thoroughly and with ease. Consistent with the few inmate
complaints we received about medical services, they reported no staffing shortages or
other major problems. Sixty-five inmates are HIV-positive and on antiretroviral
medication. Compliance is taken seriously, they reported, and staff has sufficient time to
counsel inmates on their medical regimens. The specialty care referral system works well
and has improved access to outside specialists. They use telemedicine for dermatology
and will soon expand it to orthopedics. Ambulance service for transporting inmates and
staff to outside hospitals is prompt and reliable.
We mentioned inmates’ request for information on hepatitis C and raised it in our
letter to the Superintendent. Subsequently, the local chapter of the American Liver
Foundation supplied the facility with information for inmates and staff.
Meeting with Executive Team
Thanks to the few complaints we received, the final meeting was a brief and
pleasant exchange. We reported that inmates seemed generally satisfied with conditions
at Collins, and that correction officers, with the exception of those in the PC unit,
received high marks from inmates.


We noted that the division between the two Inmate Liaison Committees seemed
artificial and asked the Superintendent if he would consider unifying the committees. He
said that the two “campuses” have different issues but that he would consider it.
With regard to the tap water, the Superintendent and his team seemed wearily
accustomed to complaints. The problems have been fixed but suspicions still loom. He
reported that the local health department tests the water regularly and deems it acceptable
for drinking.
With regard to sewage backups, Superintendent Berbary said he recently had an
alarm system installed to alert them when a backup occurs. The administration seemed to
feel that inmates’ complaints were exaggerated — “The flooding is never more than two
inches, tops”— and that the inmate utility cleaners are supplied with adequate protective
We expressed concern over the windowless gym that serves as the PC dormitory
and the lack of air circulation, to which the Superintendent responded: “The air filtration
system is on a regular maintenance schedule.” He added that he and the Deputy
Superintendent visit the unit weekly and seemed surprised at the level of indignation
among the inmates. He agreed to consider the possibility of creating a separate ILC for
the PC inmates and promised to look into the other concerns they raised.
In a follow-up phone call, Superintendent Berbary said that he assigned a staff
member to meet monthly with PC inmates and to relay their concerns to the Inmate
Liaison Committee, and that the minutes from the meetings are now posted in their dorm.
In addition, a photo booth was provided in the PC visiting room so inmates can take
pictures during visits.




n April 29, 1998, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Coxsackie
Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for men in Greene County.
The prison was at capacity, with 1,074 inmates on the day of our visit.
Superintendent Dominic Mantello provided a brief overview of the prison, noting
that it houses mostly younger inmates. Approximately 75% of the inmates are under the
age 24, he said. About 45% are between 16 and 21.
New to Coxsackie is a Regional Medical Unit, a maximum-security health facility
serving approximately 60 inmates from prisons in the hub. Unlike the medical clinic for
Coxsackie’s general population inmates, which is run by DOCS, the RMU is run by
Correctional Medical Services (CMS), a private health care concern. The RMU provides
skilled nursing care for inmates with sub-acute conditions and has a hospice for the
terminally ill.
Medical Clinic
The infirmary and clinic were clean, airy, modern and well-equipped. We toured
the dental clinic, where approximately 20 inmates are seen a day, and spoke briefly with
the two dentists. We then met with the medical director, who has 18 years on the job and
is not board-certified. He is trained as a general practitioner and had a full-time practice
in town before joining Coxsackie. He still maintains a part-time practice on the outside,
he said.
Several officials from the Central Office’s Health Services Division were present
at the meeting, which seemed to make the doctor nervous. He was unsure how many
inmates were HIV-infected, for example, or how many received antiretroviral therapy.
One of the officials reported that Coxsackie’s figures mirror those of the state prison
system, which shows that approximately 10% of male inmates are HIV-positive. Thus,
the official said, one can deduce that about 10 inmates at Coxsackie (out of a population
of slightly over 1,000) are HIV-positive. A visitor pointed out that 10% of 1,000 is 100.
Nevertheless, the official reiterated that there were no more than about 10 inmates at
Coxsackie who are HIV-infected.
We were concerned that a facility figure so far below the system figure indicates
that a sizeable number of inmates who are HIV-positive do not know, and thus do not
receive life-prolonging medication. The official noted that the Department of Health does
weekly anonymous testing at the facility.
Regional Medical Unit (RMU)
The RMU, staffed and run by the private Correctional Medical Services, houses
60 patients ranging in age from 25 to 70. Many have cancer, AIDS or other serious


illnesses. The medical director was not present, but we heard favorable comments about
him from medical staff and inmates.
Committee members who had toured the RMU when it opened in 1996 were
favorably impressed with the number of improvements. The staff struck us as energetic
and compassionate. They advocate for patients’ medical parole, they said, and attempt to
reunite them with family members so that “no one dies alone.” It was interesting to hear
that some inmates prefer to die in the prison hospice; after years of incarceration, they
have few friends or family members left on the outside. Staff and fellow inmates have
become their de facto families.
We spoke with several patients in the day room, whose chief complaint concerned
the attitudes of correction staff. “They treat us like dogs,” one man said. “They run this
place like the Gestapo.” Inmates reported that mail is routinely intercepted as a means of
reprisal, that food packages are delivered opened and half-consumed, and that complaints
to sergeants are ignored. After the visit, we received a letter from an RMU patient who
gave high marks to the unit and staff, adding that everyone should be given raises.
The RMU administrator mentioned that Superintendent Mantello was largely
responsible for the development of the hospice program, that he recently added an
evening recreation program and was considering more programs for RMU patients.
We ate lunch with the executive team in the staff dining room, where inmates in
the food service program prepare and serve the meals. A Deputy Superintendent said that
the food service program was one of the few vocational programs to survive the budget
cuts. “Vocational training in Coxsackie is half what it used to be,” he said. The education
program lost 18 teachers. Coxsackie currently offers Adult Basic Education (ABE) and
GED preparation and testing. If an inmate reads below the fifth-grade level, he is required
to spend all day in school until he can read at the eighth-grade level. For inmates in the
RMU, SHU and keeplock, there is a cell-study program, but there is only one teacher to
administer the program to between 300 and 400 inmates.
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
There are 32 cells on the unit, all of which were occupied. Although each cell had
a small window and the sun shone brightly outside, the cell interiors were so dark that we
could barely make out the occupants. Committee members had to knock loudly on the
doors to see if the inmates wanted to talk.
Unlike some other SHUs in the system, where the cells have bars and the inmates
can talk to each other, Coxsackie inmates live behind thick metal doors with a small
Plexiglas window. A Correctional Association board member with a decade of prison
visiting described the unit as the most depressing SHU he had seen, so cut off were the


inmates from the outside world. Many of the prisoners there were teenagers; it was
difficult to fathom the despair they must feel.
Grievances focused on cold food, small food portions, no commissary privileges,
phone calls or packages, hostile correction staff and delayed disciplinary hearings.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The concerns expressed by the ILC were not as negative or impassioned as we
have heard at other maximum-security prisons. The men noted both good and bad aspects
of life at Coxsackie.
The inmates commented favorably on the medical staff, but complained about the
three-to-four-week wait to see the doctor, time during which medical conditions worsen
and patients continue to suffer. They complained, too, about the presence of COs in the
examination rooms, which they said makes them feel self-conscious and hinders open
communication. Additionally, they reported that medical staff uses Spanish-speaking
inmates or COs to interpret for non English-speaking patients. This practice not only
breaches confidentiality but leaves open the possibility of inaccurate translation in
potentially life-threatening situations.
Inmates reported that the mental health counselors are professional and
supportive, but that COs serve as gatekeepers to receiving services. Justifiably, they feel
uncomfortable having COs evaluate their mental health needs for them to be referred.
They reported that one of the dentists trembles to the point where he has
occasionally injured himself and his patients. One ILC member opened his mouth and
revealed a scar on the inside of his cheek.
In regard to the RMU and elsewhere, correction officers were the source of the
majority of complaints. Inmates reported that COs in the keeplock area were particularly
hostile and abusive. Incidents the men reported included: officers ripping up inmates’
mail in front of them, laughing at and distributing family pictures for others to see, as
well as acts of physical retaliation. Their reports seemed credible, not only because they
were articulated calmly and clearly, but because they were presented in the larger context
of positive comments about the facility and other security staff.
Meeting with Executive Team
We informed the Superintendent about the negative feedback regarding COs, to
which he replied: “We respond to each and every complaint of abuse.” We pressed the
issue and asked if he was surprised by the number of complaints we received about CO
misconduct. He indicated that he was unwilling to discuss the matter further.
With regard to the medical director’s estimate of ten HIV-infected inmates, the
Superintendent rejected the notion that the number was higher. The majority of inmates


are young, he said, and most likely did not engage in the kinds of behaviors, i.e. injecting
drugs, that can lead to HIV. A doctor on the Prison Visiting Committee disputed this
point and stated that regardless of conjectures about the population, all inmates should be
encouraged to get tested while they are incarcerated since they have an opportunity to
receive medical services they might not receive or know how to access on the outside.
The Superintendent denied that testing is inadequate and became angry with us for
pursuing the point.
He did, however, agree to investigate complaints about meals in the keeplock
unit. Several weeks later, he reported that food portions were brought up to regulation
and arrangements had been made to keep the food hot until serving.




n March 31, 1998, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Downstate
Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, approximately 60 miles north of
Manhattan. Opened in 1979, Downstate is a maximum-security Reception/Classification
Center for men. Its primary function is to receive and classify newly sentenced male
felons, 16 years of age and up. The facility processes between 15,000 and 20,000 inmates
In addition to the Classification Unit, Downstate has a Special Needs Unit for
inmates the Department has assessed as mentally impaired, victim prone, physically
handicapped, or violence prone.
Downstate has a cadre of 288 general population inmates who provide facility
support services. Cadre inmates are selected by the staff and offered the option to serve
their sentences at Downstate, a desirable assignment given its proximity to NYC. Deputy
Superintendent John O’Connell, who served as our escort and guide, said that cadre
inmates throughout the system tend to be the most educated, physically fit and “well
adjusted” prisoners.
Classification Process
All Classification/Reception inmates are individually assessed for security risk,
mental health and medical status. The process typically takes five days. Security level is
determined by the nature of the instant offense, the level of violence involved, whether or
not a weapon was used, and whether the offense was isolated or part of a history of
similar offenses. Length of sentence is also considered: Inmates with short sentences are
considered to pose less of a risk for escape and therefore a minimum-security facility
would likely be recommended. An estimated 20% of the inmates are classified as
maximum, 60% as medium and 20% as minimum. In the 1970s, Deputy McConnell said,
70% to 85% of prisoners were classified as maximum.
Inmates are given an I.Q. test, a standard scholastic assessment, the Michigan
Alcohol and Substance Abuse Test (MAST), and a questionnaire to determine victimproneness. Two psychiatrists, two psychologists and two social workers comprise the
mental health team. Staff members read each inmate’s security, custodial and presentence reports as well as his medical summary “before the inmate even gets to his cell,”
Deputy O’Connell reported. The State Office of Mental Health Services has a Forensic
Diagnostic Unit on site to assist classification personnel.
The morning after arrival, inmates undergo a number of medical tests, including
full blood work (blood chemistry and electrolytes), chest x-rays, PPD (tuberculosis),
dental exam, liver function, urinalysis and Hepatitis B. HIV testing is not performed for
Reception inmates. If a cadre inmate wants to be tested, the Osborne Association (a


NYC-based nonprofit agency that provides services to inmates and ex-offenders) offers
confidential testing and counseling twice a month.
After assessing an inmate’s security level, mental health and medical status, staff
enters the data into a computerized classification system, which matches inmates to
prisons best suited to their needs. About 80% of inmates are processed and assigned in
five days. The remaining 20% fall into the Special Needs category and are processed
through an extended classification unit. It can take up to six months before placement is
determined. These are inmates the assessment team considers “sexually predatory,
callously violent, members of racist groups, victim prone or mentally or physically
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
The SHU is comprised of single cells in clusters of four surrounded by cage-like
fencing. Both inmates and correction officers complained about life in the SHU. Officers
spoke about the prevalence of assaultive and violent inmates. Inmates reported that the
food often arrives cold and in “child’s portions.” Alternative meals for religious and
medical reasons are not regularly provided. The administration claimed that, in fact, SHU
inmates are given more food in their trays than reception inmates, and that medical diets
are provided.
Inmates complained about the dearth of reading material and the fact that the unit
is not “wired” (permitting inmates to listen to a central radio with earphones) as are other
SHUs. They reported feeling totally cut off from society and that the nurses and mental
health professionals just “whiz” through the unit, making no attempt to talk with the
Cadre Housing Area
We visited a housing area for cadre inmates comprised of single and double cells
and a day room. Most of the men expressed positive views of the facility. Proximity to
New York City, the opportunity to work, and fair treatment by COs were noted. Overall,
the inmates seemed grateful to be serving their bids at Downstate rather than another
Their leading grievance concerned double-celling. The cells are 72 square feet
and hold a bunk bed, toilet and two lockers. Space is extremely tight—there is not
enough room for two men to stand comfortably in the cell. Deputy Superintendent
O’Connell noted that inmates are told they will be double-celled for up to a year and will
be moved to a single cell when space is available. “If they don’t like it,” he said, “we
remind them they can always get a transfer.” Several nonsmokers share cells with
smokers. The inmates said they rarely complain to staff because they know what the
answer will be: “If you don’t like it, you can always leave.”


Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
Similar to the cadre inmates, the ILC noted the relaxed atmosphere of the facility
and the generally decent correctional staff. However, they also raised a number of
Medical Services: “I won’t go to sick call unless I’m dying,” one man said, summing up
the general sentiment of the group. Inmates reported extreme difficulty and delays in
seeing a doctor. The nurses function as gatekeepers and treat the majority of maladies
with Tylenol and in-cell confinement. Too often, they said, the nurses dismiss physical
illness as malingering or punish sick inmates with keeplock. Inmates in double cells then
have to live with a sick cellmate. “The whole system is designed to discourage usage. If
you ever want to see a doctor, you have to file a grievance, which lands you in medical
keep lock.” With regard to HIV tests, they reported that testing is difficult and implicitly
discouraged. “It’s like they don’t want us to know if we have it,” said one inmate. “Then
we couldn’t work.” They recommended having a physician’s assistant conduct sick call
and sensitivity training for the nurses. They also noted the need for more medical
coverage on weekends. One man told of having to wait six hours to get stitches.
Visiting Room: Inmates’ major concern focused on treatment of their visitors. COs in the
Visiting Room were said to make lewd comments to female visitors, especially if the
woman is white and the inmate she is visiting is black. One man reported that a CO twice
asked his girlfriend for her phone number.
Package Room: Packages containing food are said to arrive with contents missing. An
inmate reported that every package of Snickers candy bars he receives from home has a
third of the candy bars missing. “It’s like their fee,” he said. Female COs are known to
send back magazines they find offensive, such as Penthouse, which is permitted in New
York State prisons.
Meeting with Correction Officers
The administration found one CO to meet with us. Understandably, he was
uncomfortable serving as the lone spokesperson to 14 outside visitors. He has been on the
job 15 years, at Downstate for 13 years. The subject he spoke most passionately about
was violence: inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults. He reported that violence in
the Reception Unit is on the rise and that violence in the SHU is “very bad.” He noted
that inmates today represent “a different kind of inmate: they are more violent and
younger and gang-affiliated.” He suggested that more gang-related training should be
offered to the COs. He acknowledged that packages are often not delivered intact and that
complaints are frequent. He suggested abolishing packages altogether.
Meeting with Executive Team
We raised the issue of double-celling, and the Superintendent offered to send us
forms signed by every inmate agreeing to be double-celled until a single cell becomes


available. We pointed out that inmates have no choice but to sign the forms, but
acknowledged that at least inmates were made aware of the situation and duration.
With regard to medical care, the Superintendent acknowledged that medical
personnel are extremely busy screening Reception inmates and that cadre inmates may
have difficulty securing appointments with physicians. In correspondence after the visit,
the Superintendent agreed to implement the ILC’s suggestion of having a physician’s
assistant make sick-call rounds in the cadre cellblocks. He also sent us a batch of signed
inmate double-celling forms. He reported that reading material in the SHU was
supplemented and that a new audio wiring system was approved.




n June 29, 1999, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Eastern Correctional
Facility, a maximum-security prison for men in Napanoch, approximately 90
minutes from New York City. Eastern houses 1,037 inmates in general confinement, has
a medium-security annex for 180 men with histories of substance abuse and domestic
violence, and a Sensorially Disabled Unit for inmates who are hearing and/or visually
impaired. The average length of stay is approximately 9.5 years.
We met first with Superintendent David Miller, a veteran Superintendent who
spoke with pride about his facility. In 1982, Eastern became the first New York State
prison to be accredited by the American Correctional Association. He distinguished
Eastern as a prison that emphasizes “correction” over “punishment,” and said that he tells
new prisoners that the facility has four distinct advantages over other prisons: a seasoned
correction staff; good programs; a “model” visiting and family reunion program; and a
“tension-free” atmosphere. “We have zero tolerance for violence,” he added. He makes
rounds of the prison every day at 7:15 a.m.
Although Eastern, like other maximum-security prisons, has lost a number of
programs in recent years, the programs that it does offer received high marks from
inmates and visitors. A particularly innovative program is the Braille Transcription Unit,
where inmates transcribe some 200 books a year into Braille for schoolchildren and gain
skills in word processing, computer applications, translation, and printing and graphics.
An industry program employs over 100 inmates who manufacture signs and mattresses.
The prison’s 1,440 acres include a dairy farm and a sawmill, run with the help of inmates.
Another impressive effort is the Delinquency Intervention Program.
Approximately 25 inmates work with at-risk youth to keep them from further
delinquency and imprisonment. Youth from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut
come to Eastern and spend the day at the prison. The inmates tell them their personal
stories, take them on a tour of a cellblock, where they speak with men in their cells, and
end with a roundtable discussion of prison and how to avoid it. Two correction officers
volunteered to facilitate the program. On their own time, they promote the program in the
community and recruit the youth from high schools. All the inmates and officers work
without pay, which they told us is the how they want it. “That way, we respect each
other’s sincerity,” a prisoner explained.
Chemical Dependency/Domestic Violence Program
Housed in a medium-security “treatment” annex, the program is a therapeutic
community for 180 inmates with histories of chemical addiction and domestic violence.
The director, praised by the inmates for her warmth and professionalism, explained that
the program looks at inmates’ behavior in school, treatment, work and free time.


Behavior, both positive and negative, is tracked by program staff and used as a
mechanism for self-development. The program handbook tells participants: “You have
the responsibility to be honest and contribute your own unique gifts to this community. In
return, the community will give you the support, strength and sense of belonging
essential to a healthy lifestyle.” All the men we spoke with had positive comments about
the program. Inmates who had been in substance abuse programs in other prisons said
that Eastern’s was the most effective—in a class of its own.
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
The Superintendent reported that approximately 80% of the men in the 32-cell
SHU were there for positive drug tests, usually their second or third offense. The average
stay is a year. In contrast to the snake pit-like conditions we have seen in some other
SHUs, the cellblocks were clean, well-lit and quiet. Most of the inmates had no
complaints about conditions or treatment from correction officers. One man, who had
spent time in SHUs at Sing Sing and Green Haven, said Eastern’s is “the best box” he’s
been in. Two of the inmates were from the Sensorially Disabled Unit. A very sad case
was an elderly blind man, who said he received 18 months in the SHU for drug use. He
said he smokes marijuana to help his glaucoma and feels it is unfair to be locked up for
something that helps him see better.
Inmates reported that food, medical services, books and legal material are
provided sufficiently. A correction officer told us that the difference between Eastern’s
SHU and others is that the “people who do rounds show up when they’re supposed to and
inmates get what they’re entitled to.” The officers said that the correction staff and
civilian employees have a good working relationship. They praised the Superintendent
for implementing three days of SHU-specific training for officers assigned to the unit.
The officers showed us the SHU handbook, which was also available in
Spanish—something we have not seen in other prisons. An officer on the unit is fluent in
Spanish. Several officers said they would like to be trained in American Sign Language
so they can communicate with inmates from the SDU.
Feedback from Inmates
Inmates we spoke with in the mess hall, program areas and on the Inmate Liaison
Committee expressed generally favorable comments about Eastern. They noted that
Eastern is “calmer…there is less chance of being jumped, less hassle from COs, not a lot
of tension.” Many said that what distinguishes Eastern from other prisons is the
professionalism of the correction staff. “It’s not them versus us but them and us,” one
man said. It was unusual—astounding, in fact—to hear an inmate in a maximum-security
prison say that “the most positive thing in this facility is the relationship we have with
COs.” Another example we heard was that while COs in most maximum-security prisons
carry batons, many officers at Eastern opt not to. Even the commonly loathed practice of
pat frisking generated few complaints. Inmates said pat frisks are performed randomly
and as “respectfully” as possible.


These positive comments did not apply universally, however. Correction officers
on the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift were described as unprofessional, known to ignore facility
policies and enforce their own rules. “There is a definite change in attitude between the
day and evening shift,” an inmate said. The steady officers in the visiting room received
unanimously negative feedback. One officer in particular was described as hostile and
rude to visitors and the source of “over a hundred grievances.” The visiting room COs
“treat our family members like they treat us, like they committed a crime,” one man said.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met separately with two groups of security staff: sergeants (including union
representatives) and correction officers. The four sergeants were veterans of DOCS, with
19 years, 33 years, 22 years and 15 years on the job. Again, their upbeat demeanor was
atypical for a maximum-security prison. When asked what they like about their jobs, they
cited the lack of stress, the professionalism of staff and the sense of family. Most of them
said they were drawn to the field for the job security and benefits and stayed on because
they found the work “fulfilling.” They emphasized their willingness to help inmates
resolve conflicts.
We asked them why Eastern is such an unusual prison. One sergeant said there “is
less confrontation because there are more seasoned officers.” Another commented that
“the Superintendent and his deputies make frequent rounds, are intimately involved with
day-to-day operations and have an open door policy with staff.” They reported, too, that
correction officers “take the opportunity to speak with inmates,” and that “most
grievances are handled on the spot.” A sergeant summed up the discussion by saying:
“Eastern is like no other jail in the system. I can’t figure it out. The staff is excellent. Our
relations with inmates are excellent. How it keeps going is a mystery to me.”
They noted that not all officers are comfortable with the open communication
between staff and inmates. “We had two COs from upstate come here and ask to be
moved back because they couldn’t stand the one-on-one communication.”
When asked what words came to mind in describing prisoners, the officers said:
“Poorly educated; poor; drug addicts; wannabe’s.” One CO responded, “They are just
really, really poor. Dirt poor. They haven’t had any discipline or guidance their entire
Their frustrations focused on compensation and cuts in staffing and program.
They reported that the number of sergeants was reduced from 36 to 23, and the number of
correction officers was reduced from 400 to 360. The program cuts begun in 1996 have
compounded the problem, they said. “We have fewer officers and half as many
programs.” More inmates are idle and frustrated, and there are fewer officers to keep the


Meeting with Executive Team
We expressed our generally positive observations about the facility, noting that
Eastern seems to be the most well-run and humane prison we have visited. We raised the
issue of officer misconduct on the evening shift and visiting room officers’ treatment of
inmate family members. The Superintendent neither denied nor confirmed inmates’
reports but promised to look into it. With regard to offering American Sign Language
instruction for officers who work in the SHU, Superintendent Miller said that it would
likely be offered in the near future. As for the program and staffing cuts, he said that
these issues were out of his control. Central Office and the Office of Management and
Budget made these decisions.
We ended by commenting that Eastern struck us as a model correctional facility
and that other New York State prisons could learn from it. We suggested that more
officers do their on-the-job training at Eastern, and that some type of training materials
about the Eastern approach to corrections, whether in the form of a video or a
publication, be made available at the Training Academy. Coinciding with the prison’s
100-year anniversary the following year, facility staff produced a promotional videotape
documenting the facility’s rich history and current and noteworthy operations.




n April 24, 2001, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Elmira Correctional
Facility, a maximum-security prison for men in Chemung County. Opened in
1876 as a reformatory, Elmira housed adolescent male offenders until 1991. On the day
of our visit, the prison was at capacity with just over 1,700 inmates.
The prison sits high on a hill above the town of Elmira. It is a classic “old-style”
prison with a daunting stone facade and fortress-like towers. At the main entrance stands
a large and striking bronze statue of two robust prisoners, one with his arm on the
shoulder of the other. We were told the statue is a symbol of Elmira’s earlier days when
“wayward boys were transformed into law-abiding men.”
Deputy Superintendent Cal West, filling in for Superintendent Floyd Bennett,
gave us an overview of the facility. In response to our question about staffing, he reported
that one nurse and three program positions were vacant. We were told that Elmira also
needs at least three more vocational instructors and two counselors, as well as another
physician and nurse practitioner.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The ILC spoke mainly about the strained relations between security staff and
inmates. They did not report outright physical abuse but described constant harassment,
hostility and retaliation in the form of falsified misbehavior reports for filing grievances.
They believe that officers conduct pat frisks so aggressively as to intimidate them or
provoke a reaction. Officers are known to shout and make snide remarks while searching
an inmate’s groin area for contraband. Although sergeants are required to oversee pat
frisks, inmates reported that they often do not. Members of the ILC say they are targeted
for harassment and retaliation for their advocacy on behalf of prisoners. Similar to what
we have heard at other prisons, the ILC described officers on the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift
as “cowboys.” “It’s a whole different prison at night,” they said. Despite complaints
about the COs, the inmates reported that the Superintendent “has good intentions” and is
accessible, fair and well-liked.
The other serious problem is medical services, which inmates described as
“basically a joke.” One inmate commented: “No matter what I have, I’m given Tylenol.”
Another inmate noted: “If you’re not bleeding, you’re not sick.” They reported a three- to
four-week wait to see the doctor.
Mental Health Services
We met with the unit chief, the discharge planner, and a social worker from the
satellite unit. The five dormitory beds were empty; the three observation cells were
occupied. Surprisingly, the inmates in the observation cells were fully clothed and had
blankets and mattresses. (Inmates in observation cells at most prisons we visit are denied


clothing and sometimes blankets.) There is a Spanish-speaking CO on the unit; the fulltime psychiatrist is fluent in Spanish, Creole and French.
The unit chief said he sees inmates “cycling in back and forth from the SHU.”
Inmates “use the mental health unit as a respite from the SHU,” he said. Of the 54
inmates in the SHU, fully 33 were on the OMH caseload; 18 were Level I’s.
Approximately three inmates are transferred to Central New York Psychiatric Center
(CNYPC) each month.
Of the 281 general population prisoners on the OMH caseload, 211 take
psychiatric medications and 119 are classified as Level 1. The most common major
mental disorder is depression, followed by schizophrenia and psychotic disorder.
We were impressed with the extensive knowledge and effort of the discharge
planner. Inmates are given a two-week supply of medication; she makes an appointment
for them at a clinic closest to their home. She works with the Division of Parole to ensure
that the transition is as smooth as possible. Nevertheless, about a quarter of the men are
released to homeless shelters. She tries to find them a bed in a community program with
psychiatric services but is only able to place about one out of ten inmates.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four male COs: two had 12 years on the job; one 13 years; the other
two years. One officer said he took the job because of the benefits. “But that was when it
used to pay to work for DOCS,” he said. Another officer added: “You can go out and
make the same money anywhere now.” The COs feel that the “union is selling [them]
out.” They bemoaned their inability to strike and the increasingly high medical copayments. One officer was recently “dropped” by his dentist because of late payments by
the state. Another officer said that the nearest x-ray technician in the medical plan was
over 100 miles away.
The COs responded quickly when we asked what they would like to change about
their jobs. One officer suggested making the inmates wear uniforms. (Currently, they can
wear personal shirts.) Another said he would like the public to know how difficult their
jobs are. Another CO said he would like to ban contact visits to curb the flow of
The words the COs used to describe inmates included “slick,” “cunning,” and
“street-smart.” When asked to describe how inmates have changed over the years, one
officer said that there used to be an inmate code of silence. Today, he said, “it’s the year
of the snitch.”
The officers said the facility needed more programs, particularly small engine and
appliance repair. There are too many porters and too much idleness, they said, which
makes their jobs more difficult.


On a positive note, the officers expressed appreciation for the executive team,
particularly Superintendent Bennett. “He came up through the ranks,” one man
commented. Another described it as the “best administration [he’s] ever worked for.”
Finally, they all cited camaraderie among officers as the best aspect of their jobs.
Tour of Cell Blocks
We toured several cellblocks and found them to be clean, quiet and orderly. Some
inmates reported few problems and were generally in good spirits. One man who had
served time in other maximum-security prisons said that Elmira “wasn’t the worst prison”
he’d seen. Other inmates complained about harassment from COs, poor medical services
and insufficient programs.
Medical Clinic
After meeting with the medical director and acting nurse administrator, it was
clear that the clinic is functioning in crisis mode. The problems we noted during our visit
in 1998 were just as bad, if not worse. With nearly 1,000 general population inmates and
some 4,000 reception inmates to screen each year, current health care staffing is
inadequate. The medical director confirmed inmate reports that it takes up to a month to
see a physician and that patient follow-up does not regularly occur. He reported that a
board-certified internist recently left Elmira because of the noncompetitive pay rate. To
cope with staff shortages, the clinic uses per-diem nurses, which is extremely costly and
compromises continuity of care.
Approximately 80 inmates are HIV-positive (“many” are co-infected with
hepatitis C, the medical director said) and a high number suffer from chronic illnesses
such as asthma and diabetes. Staff performs some 40 finger sticks to check blood insulin
levels every evening.
With regard to quality assurance, the medical director reported that they can
barely manage to adhere to medical protocols, much less implement a quality assurance
program. Two improvements since our last visit, they noted, are better access to outside
specialists and increased use of telemedicine.
Intermediate Care Program (ICP)
The ICP contains 54 beds and is always full, staff reported. A Deputy
Superintendent described the ICP inmates as “hard workers” and “less disruptive” than
general population inmates. Visitors found the unit and inmates calm and docile. A
problem noted by staff is that the ICP shares resources, including office space and staff,
with the Family Reunion Program. As a result, ICP inmates are not getting the attention
they need. Inmates reported having fewer programs in Elmira’s ICP compared to other
ICPs they have been in. Inmates said they have filed several grievances about the idleness
but have yet to receive a response.


Special Housing Unit (SHU)
Elmira’s disciplinary confinement unit comprises several cellbocks in separate
part of the prison. The unit is old, dark and dreary. The majority of inmates (33 out of 54
men) in disciplinary lockdown had been diagnosed as mentally ill and were on the OMH
caseload. Ironically, the SHU was full while the “residential treatment” beds in the
mental health satellite unit were empty.
Inmates who were not on the OMH caseload said that the constant noise and
anguished cries of the mentally ill inmates on the cellblock made life in the SHU
intolerable. We spoke at length with two inmates, both of whom were on the mental
health caseload and were clearly distraught. One man stated that he had been on a
restricted diet (three servings a day of bread and cabbage) for three weeks for refusing to
take psychotropic medication. We checked his records, and they confirmed his report. At
our request, the Deputy Superintendent contacted an OMH staff member, who verified
that the inmate refused to take his medications. The Deputy Superintendent said the man
was sent to disciplinary confinement for writing a love letter to a female CO. He offered
to speak with the inmate and try to persuade him to take his meds; if the inmate agreed,
he would have his meal “privileges” restored. We told the inmate this and encouraged
him to speak with his mental health counselor. He said he would rather talk to the Deputy
The other man we spoke with was stripped to his underwear and sitting on a
concrete floor in a barren cell without a blanket or a mattress. Officials said he lights fires
in his cell and refuses to take psychotropic medication. He, too, had been diagnosed with
a major mental disorder and did not want to speak with OMH staff. The system appeared
to have no way of dealing with this man rather than confining him in the SHU.
Meeting with Executive Team
We raised the problem of idleness, noting that inmates and staff alike feel that
Elmira is in dire need of additional programs. The executive team said they asked the
Commissioner for additional budget items and were awaiting approval.
We raised the issue of ILC members being retaliated against by officers on the 3
p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift. The officials said they were not aware of the problem and would
discuss it with the ILC. With regard to aggressive and unprofessional pat frisking, we
suggested that supervisors oversee pat frisks more regularly.
With regard to medical services, Acting Superintendent West reported that
“Albany is aware of the problem.” He hoped that they would soon be able to hire an
additional physician, but because the salary is nearly $10,000 short of what physicians
earn in the community, the position was difficult to fill.


With regard to insufficient programs and staff on the ICP, the executive team said
they would “take a strong look at what is given to the unit” and assured us that the
situation would be re-evaluated.
Last, we discussed the problem of housing inmates with mental illness in the
SHU. We questioned the logic of having an empty mental health service unit and a SHU
full of inmates with major mental disorders. We noted that the mental health staff seems
to have abdicated their responsibilities to prison officials, and that the men we
interviewed appeared to have been left to languish in barren cells without regular meals
or clothing. As we’ve heard before, the executive team stated that inmates who are
chronically disruptive and mentally disturbed present the greatest challenges to the
system. Regardless of a mental disorder, if an inmate lights a fire in his cell and the
behavior goes unpunished, they said, it sends a message to other inmates that they can do
the same. Aside from confining such inmates in disciplinary lockdown, they feel they
have no other options. The discussion was frustrating. Prison officials believe they have
no other way to handle chronically disruptive and mentally disturbed inmates, and OMH
staff—certainly at Elmira—appear to have few solutions and do little to intervene.
In a follow-up phone call two days after the visit, the Deputy Superintendent
reported that he had succeeded in persuading both inmates to take their medication and
that their food and clothing privileges had been restored. Regardless of the outcome, the
whole situation—from a correction official serving in the role as mental health
professional, to the lack of therapeutic intervention on the part of mental health staff and
the inmates’ refusal to speak with them—struck us as absurd.




n March 22, 2001, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Fishkill
Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison for men about 70 miles north
of New York City. Fishkill is a large, sprawling, old-style facility holding 2,180 inmates.
The compound includes a SHU-200, general confinement inmates, and a work release
unit. A Regional Medical Unit (RMU) and Mental Health Satellite Unit were recently
constructed on the prison grounds. The Superintendent said they should be operational in
several months.
Superintendent William Mazzuca reported a 34 percent decrease in the number of
inmate grievances filed in 2000 compared with 1999. He attributed the drop to more
informal resolution of issues and increased rounds by correction officers in the SHU-200.
The top two grievances were staff misconduct and medical services.
Feedback from Inmates
Inmates’ primary concern was hostile and/or abusive treatment by correction
staff, officers whom they said to bring “a maximum-security mentality to a mediumsecurity facility.” Inmates spoke about a group of rogue COs who physically abuse and
retaliate against inmates for filing grievances against them or their friends. Some of these
officers had been at Fishkill “for decades,” inmates said, and know each other well. As
one inmate explained, when a CO who delivered newspapers as a teenager to the person
who now serves as the prison’s hearing officer, “a [disciplinary] ticket sticks no matter
The manner in which pat frisks are conducted was also raised. “During pat frisks
they try to get you to come off the wall. They want you to twitch so they can beat you
down,” inmates reported. While a supervisor is supposed to be present during pat frisks,
this policy is rarely enforced. Inmates reported being pulled out of line on the way to a
program or the mess hall, brought to an isolated area and beaten. Certain sergeants are
known to cover up incidents. Officers on the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift were described as the
most aggressive and reckless. One inmate described it as a “mindset shift with the shift
The inmates said that the administration is responsive to most of their concerns,
but when it comes to staff misconduct, its hands are tied by the union. The Inspector
General’s office apparently told the Inmate Liaison Committee that the Department
cannot remove problem officers, only document the incident.
Prisoners also discussed the “influx of inmates with serious mental illness,” who
are more likely to be victimized in the general population and then sent to disciplinary
confinement. Officers are not trained to deal with psychological problems of this
magnitude, they said, and the mental health unit is inadequately staffed.


Medical care at the facility was described as “prehistoric.” Inmates reported that it
takes three to four weeks to see a doctor. In emergencies, an hour can go by before an
ambulance arrives to transport an inmate to an outside hospital. Prisoners also noted that
they do not receive medical test results in writing, which violates Central Office policy.
They described HIV testing as “an abomination.” There is no pre-or post-test counseling;
inmates are simply told their results and “to deal with it.” Despite the fact that there are
about 25 inmates at Fishkill who are trained and certified as HIV counselors, they are not
being utilized. The inmates noted, however, that a particular physician’s assistant “goes
above and beyond” to educate inmates about infectious diseases. They expressed a need
for more education and literature about hepatitis C.
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
Two committee members toured three levels of the single-celled SHU. The tiers
were quiet and the inmates were calm. Many of the men were sleeping; others were
reading. Inmates reported few problems with staff or conditions. Food portions were
described as adequate; they receive their daily hour of recreation if they want it. Most
inmates said they sleep most of the day. The majority of inmates we spoke with reported
that they were on the OMH caseload and were on psychotropic medication. Many of
them appeared dazed and heavily sedated.
We spoke with a correction officer about inmate suicides on the unit, and he
brought us into the empty cell where a suicide had recently occurred. He showed us how
the prisoner looped his sheet through a metal vent in the ceiling. There were two suicides
in the past year, he said. “I can’t even count the number of attempts I’ve seen,” he added.
Medical Clinic
Because of scheduling delays, we met briefly with the medical director and spent
approximately 30 minutes with the physician’s assistant about whom the inmates spoke
so highly. He is an HIV specialist who formerly worked at the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
He showed us a list of HIV-positive inmates under his care, reporting that he goes to
great lengths to ensure that they receive the treatment and follow up care and counseling
that they need.
Of the approximately 2,220 inmates at Fishkill, he reported, 137 have HIV or
AIDS. Of the 137 HIV-infected inmates, 87 percent are co-infected with hepatitis C. He
estimated that as many as 60 percent of the 2,200 inmates at Fishkill could be infected
with hepatitis C, and of that, 20 percent either will or currently require treatment. At
present, however, only “two or three” inmates at Fishkill receive hepatitis C medication.
Mental Health Services
The new unit chief is a veteran employee of the Office of Mental Health with over
20 years’ experience. He reported that the unit will soon be upgraded to a Satellite Unit,


and staff will be significantly increased. Fishkill’s caseload of 400 inmates, of whom 250
receive psychotropic medication, is one of the largest in the system.
The dormitory held 16 inmates; one of the four observation cells was occupied.
The unit was quiet and calm. The COs seemed genuinely concerned about the inmates,
whom one officer likened to “little kids—you just gotta keep talkin’ to them.” The unit
chief said he is fortunate to have officers who are aware of the special needs of inmates
with mental illness, and that his inmate clerks are also very helpful.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four COs: two white females, one Hispanic male and one black
male, a more racially diverse group than usual. The women were new to corrections, each
with less than one year on the job.
In response our question about what they most enjoy about the job, one of the
women spoke about the family-like atmosphere at Fishkill. After transferring to a facility
closer to her home, she decided to return to Fishkill despite a two-hour commute.
Another officer cited the benefits and generous vacation (COs start with four weeks of
vacation). The third officer cited the professionalism and team spirit of his co-workers.
The fourth officer said he welcomes interactions with inmates and likes helping them
solve problems. He likened the work to parenting.
Regarding the downsides of the job, a female officer spoke about the negative
public image of correction officers. She sometimes feels like a second-class citizen, she
said, particularly when the media refer to correction officers as “guards.”
The officers confirmed anecdotal information we had heard from inmates about
staff conduct on the evening shift. These officers are “newer,” they said, and “stricter.”
There is more idleness in the evenings and, as a consequence of that, an officer said,
“they tend to follow rules more closely.”
Puppies Behind Bars
Opened at Fishkill in 1998, the Puppies Behind Bars program pairs a select group
of inmates with puppies, which they train as seeing-eye dogs for the blind. The dogs
remain with their trainers for 18 months, at which time they are assessed for professional
guide work. Dogs that do not “graduate” are donated to families with disabled children.
Not surprisingly, the men we spoke were enormously grateful for the chance to
participate in the program. They live in a separate unit that has its own yard for the
prisoners and their dogs. The inmates keep their dogs in a small kennel in their cells, and
take the dogs with them as they go to their programs (except for the industry shop or
mess hall) and attend twice weekly obedience classes. The inmates receive a certificate in
training and dog-handling. Inmates, staff and the prison officials gave the program high
marks, noting that there have been no problems with security violations.


Meeting with Executive Team
We raised the reports we received of CO misconduct, to which the Superintendent
replied that “every single complaint is investigated.” We noted that despite
investigations, inmates throughout the facility felt that certain correction staff are
abusive, that misconduct is generally ignored and that specific individuals were cited. We
gave him a list of names and described several incidents, which he promised to look into.
Nevertheless, he repeated the same response we hear from most Superintendents with
whom we raise the issue of CO misconduct—there is little they can do about it. The CO
union prevents Superintendents from transferring or terminating officers. He added that
the evening shift “historically has new officers and supervisors who need time to build
rapport and feel confident enough to be flexible. There is no way to substitute for
experience,” he said. A Deputy Superintendent noted that everyone involved would
prefer an amicable environment. “The inmates have to live here and we have to work
The Superintendent did not appear surprised by the medical issues we raised but
expressed optimism that the new Regional Medical Unit should alleviate many of the
problems. He said there that pre- and post-test HIV counseling is supposed to occur and
would check into reports that it is not. Regarding inmates’ request for information about
hepatitis C, he said he would look into posting information on the facility’s intrainstitution cable.
We raised the issue of the abysmal ambulance response time and noted
documentation we had seen of a recent emergency involving a staff member, where the
ambulance service took 90 minutes to arrive. The Superintendent promised to look into it
and reiterated that with the new RMU, the situation would obviously improve.




n October 18, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Gowanda
Correctional Facility, a large medium-security prison for men approximately
30 miles south of Buffalo. The prison was formerly a state psychiatric hospital. With deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, the hospital was closed and then re-opened as a
prison in 1994. Gowanda houses 2,300 inmates and is recognizable by two seven-story
towers that are unique to the state prison system.
Superintendent Gary Hodges pointed out programs that are unique to Gowanda,
such as Vocational and Skills Training (VAST), which assesses inmates’ work skills and
matches them with an appropriate module that they must complete before they can be
considered for work release. Gowanda also has a DWI program for approximately 300
men and a unit for sex offenders, opened in 1999, for approximately 200 men. The
Superintendent reported that the facility’s Special Housing Unit was closed for repairs.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
Nearly the entire hour of discussion focused on CO misconduct. The reports of
abuse were among the worst we have heard on prison visits and were highly unusual for a
medium-security facility. The most problematic area is the SHU, where inmates reported
that officers physically abuse and harass inmates. They reported incidents of men who
were beaten while handcuffed in the van on the way to the unit. Upon arrival, inmates
might receive a “welcome beating” by COs who want to show who is in charge. Inmates
can be denied food for the first few days, or COs might mash their hand in the food or
push the food tray through the slot in the door so it falls onto the cell floor. Inmates who
request a Koran or other Muslim items are marked for further, racially-based harassment.
A group of COs, which inmates described as a “gang,” has allegedly bullied
civilian staff into keeping quiet. COs “warn the teachers that they won’t protect them if
they help inmates or snitch on officers.” Decent officers will be “harassed by other
officers who slash their car tires, pee in their chairs or call them inmate lovers.”
Also extraordinary were reports that the civilian director of the grievance office,
who is married to a sergeant, gives the COs copies of inmate grievances. Inmates
described another chilling pattern: Friends of officers who have been grieved will “show
up in your dorm, sometimes at night, and threaten to set you up.” Day officers who want
to retaliate against inmates allegedly swap shifts with evening officers so they can “do
their dirty work” when the administration isn’t there. Comparing the day and evening
officers, “they are like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” inmates said.
One inmate reported that he was recently in the yard when a CO called him a
“nigger.” When the inmate told him to back off, the CO apparently directed him to enter
a small shed where they could fight. The inmate refused and threatened to call a sergeant.


The officer “snuck back into [the inmate’s] dorm” later that day and warned him not to
tell anyone what had happened.
Inmates reported that the Superintendent “doesn’t stand for nonsense from his
officers but he can’t catch them.” COs “take it upon themselves to be the judge and jury.”
Tier I tickets are not investigated; inmates are told to “just sign” the ticket. The ILC
expressed frustration that they cannot protect their fellow inmates. “We represent them,
but there is only so much we can do because we’ll get beaten or retaliated against.”
We asked the men to discuss other aspects of the facility. They described medical
care as “a joke. If you go down for a toothache you will get medicine for your foot.” In
contrast, one inmate characterized Gowanda as the “best programmed jail I’ve ever
seen.” They reported that the DWI and VAST programs have “some good counselors,”
but others are known to disregard confidentiality and tell other inmates about a man’s
Regarding life in the dormitories, inmates said that officers “will burn the whole
house because of one guy,” meaning deny the whole dorm privileges such as phone use,
TV or recreation. One man recalled a situation when “the CO told me to go ahead and
grieve him, and the dorm lost TV for a month.” On a related note, Gowanda was
described as “one of the biggest gambling casinos in the state.” Inmates reported that
officers take over the TV on Sundays to watch football and “play cards with their money
right on the table.”
We left the meeting stunned. We had never heard such extensive, vehement and
specific complaints about officer misconduct and outright abuse.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four correction officers: three males and a female whose time on the
job ranged from 12 to 25 years. We asked them about the challenges of their job and how
the inmates have changed. They said they see more violent offenders compared to when
they started. One officer complained that inmates “whine” more today. “On the street,
they didn’t have medical concerns, but now they can’t get up onto the top bunk or walk
upstairs because of some issue.”
We asked the officers to comment on the reports we received about CO
misconduct on the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift. They told us that younger, more junior officers
tend to work the evening shift and there is “a big sense of camaraderie” among them.
“The guys are just a tight group; they are younger and have young families they want to
go home to.” Another officer added, “There are fewer programs and more time for
inmates to get in trouble. Those officers have more to deal with.”
The officers unanimously agreed that they would not want their children to enter
the field. “I went through a lot of abuse from inmates but I somehow managed to stay
positive,” one officer said. “I wouldn’t wish this job on anyone.” Another officer said that


the promotion system that requires COs to move to different facilities throughout the
state is a disincentive to career advancement. “I wouldn’t want my son to have to choose
between family and advancement like I had to.”
We asked them about the reports of excessive use of force in the SHU and officer
misconduct. “Anything’s possible,” one officer said. “Some of it can be made up, some
of it’s true. That’s what we have investigations for.” One of the COs who trains other
officers denied the inmate allegations altogether. “The Department has zero tolerance of
use of force. I know. I train officers.” Another CO reported that officers are “very strict in
the SHU. I’ve seen them be thorough and strict. It’s for the safety of the officers and the
They brought up how inmates have changed in recent years, how they are
“younger and mouthier. They don’t want to comply with anything. Even the older
inmates don’t want to be around the young guys coming in.” The CO with 25 years on
the job commented, “I don’t see any unprofessional behavior here.” Another officer said,
“I never felt as though I had much power over inmates. In the dorm it’s just me and 70
inmates.” Another said it is “extremely difficult to put all your energy into harassing
inmates. If you treat inmates with respect, you’ll usually get respect back.”
Finally, we asked how they regard the administration and executive team. They
have “an open door policy,” one officer said. “We feel very comfortable with the team.
They listen to our ideas and we can speak honestly if there is an issue. We have a
Superintendent who rose through the ranks. I’ll be sorry to see him go.” (Superintendent
Hodges was due to retire the following April.)
Spontaneous comments about abusive COs from inmates in the dormitories
corresponded with those of the ILC. An inmate who had spent 64 days in the SHU
reported being harassed on a regular basis. Two other inmates who had been in the SHU
told of being denied food.
In another dormitory, inmates asked a committee member to speak with a man
who had blood in his urine after being beaten by COs in the SHU. The inmate appeared
afraid to discuss the details and downplayed the incidence as “shocking but not severe.”
His fellow inmates said he was justifiably guarded—officers recently harassed him with
threats of further retaliation when they saw Department officials interviewing him about
the incident. “This prison is out of control,” another inmate said.
Sex Offender Program
Committee members toured the sex offender program, housed in a separate area.
Inmates receive counseling and education, and participate in group sessions twice a week.
They also attend weekly study groups to reinforce the educational material. Counselors
test them on their lessons and track their progress in the program.


Two committee members were allowed to observe a counseling session. The men
invited us to pull up a chair and sit in their circle. Some spoke candidly about their pasts
and seemed aware of the damage they inflicted. Some were more confrontational with the
others, taking the focus off themselves. The facilitator, a civilian employee, skillfully
kept the discussion focused and constructive.
On our way out of the building, an inmate approached a committee member and
passed him a letter. He implored us to look into CO abuse. His letter identified several
COs and a sergeant in the sex offender unit who derided him about his crime, said they
would like to kill him, slapped him in the face, and stole his property.
Meeting with Executive Team
Because of the extensive reports of CO misconduct, we asked Superintendent
Hodges if he and his First Deputy would meet with us alone, rather than with the entire
executive team and security staff. He agreed. We described the widespread, vehement
reports of CO misconduct we heard throughout the day from inmates in all areas of the
prison. The Superintendent and First Deputy seemed genuinely surprised. They said that
they were unaware of any patterns of misconduct or abuse. Superintendent Hodges said
he was particularly surprised that he had not heard anything from inmates or staff. He has
an open-door policy, he said. Inmates often stop by when they have a problem.
The First Deputy mentioned that the security captains recently began conducting
exit interviews with inmates immediately before they leave the prison. Because inmates
have nothing to lose at that point, he said, they will sometimes disclose useful
information. (One wonders why a soon-to-be released prisoner would take such a chance,
since he clearly has nothing to gain by doing so.) “We hear mostly positive stuff,” he
Regarding reports of inmate beatings in the van on the way to the SHU, the
Superintendent said that a sergeant, a driver and two COs accompany every inmate. He
said that if an inmate “is even restrained while being cuffed,” it is considered “a use of
force that must be investigated.” He promised to look into every issue we raised with him
and asked us to provide as much specificity as possible in our report.
We followed up immediately with the letter from the inmate in the sex offender
unit. In addition to a detailed report of findings, copied to the Commissioner and relevant
legislators, we faxed several other accounts of staff misconduct to the Superintendent’s
office. (These accounts were related to us in letters and phone calls from inmates and
their family members, and a visit to our office from an inmate’s wife, who provided
documentation of numerous acts of CO harassment and abuse of her husband.) Several
weeks later, Superintendent Hodges responded via letter that internal investigations failed
to confirm our observations. About one month later, the Inspector General’s office
contacted us for more information about staff misconduct, which we provided. Despite
the plethora of allegations, prison officials continue to tell us that there are no problems


with staff misconduct at Gowanda. Policies and directives are cited, implying that they
are automatically followed.
We are seasoned visitors; based on the widespread reports of abuse at Gowanda,
we believe there is a serious problem that probably can be remedied only through
sustained independent investigation and judicial intervention.




n September 20, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Great Meadow
Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for men in Washington
County. Behind a towering white wall, 24 feet high, lies the world’s longest cellblock.
Great Meadow was operating at capacity, with 1,608 inmates the day of our visit.
Superintendent George Duncan, appointed in January 1999, gave a brief overview
of the prison. Over 20% of the prisoners were in disciplinary confinement for violating
prison rules. Approximately 250 inmates had sentences of 30 days or less in keeplock; 96
men were serving sentences of 90 days or more in the Special Housing Unit.
Medical Clinic
The clinic appeared clean, modern and well-equipped. The nurse administrator
was intimately familiar with details about illnesses affecting the inmate population,
quickly rattling off percentages of inmates with certain chronic illnesses, the types of
treatment they receive, and how medication compliance is monitored and patient progress
is tracked. He reported that there is a quality assurance program in place, and that
contracting the coordination of specialty care services to Correctional Medical Services, a
private company, has increased access to outside specialists. Two nurses are certified in
Advanced Care Life Support, which was reassuring in light of the 20-minute wait for
ambulance service to an outside hospital. We recommended that the clinic purchase a
defibrillator. (In May 2001, the Department purchased 80 Automated External
Defibrillators, state-of-the-art life-saving units that electrically reactivate heartbeats and
can be used by trained laypersons.)
Mental Health Services
The modern two-story building has six observation cells, eight dorm beds and a
day room with a large TV. Currently, 272 inmates are on the OMH caseload; 151 receive
psychotropic medication. Of the 96 prisoners in the SHU, almost two thirds (60 inmates)
are on the OMH caseload and 22 receive meds. The unit has a psychiatrist who is fluent
in Spanish, and a psychiatrist and social worker who both speak Korean.
We toured the observation cells for those inmates who are deemed a danger to
themselves or others, and the dormitory for prisoners receiving in-patient treatment. Four
of the six observation cells were occupied. Unlike other observation cells we have seen,
they had bars covered with screens to protect staff from “throwers” (inmates who throw
bodily waste) rather than solid metal doors. Two of the men were asleep on the metal slab
that serves as a bed.
Three of the eight dorm beds were occupied. Two of the men were sleeping; the
other inmate spoke with us and described the care as adequate.


Also housed in the OMH building is the Intermediate Care Program (ICP) for
low-functioning inmates. There are 38 cells, a spacious activity room with a computer
and books, a weight room, and a classroom where men practice Adult Daily Living skills.
A few of the more high-functioning men work in the prison’s soap factory, separate from
general population inmates, where their job is to pack urinal cakes.
Great Meadow, we learned, is plagued by idleness. In 1990, there were 17
vocational programs; today there are six. There are no instructors for the print shop and
welding program. About half of the population (700 inmates) has no program assignment.
Over 125 inmates are on the wait list for school. The building maintenance program was
The certified substance abuse treatment program, ASAT, was also recently
eliminated. Volunteer-run Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings
were supposed to have replaced it but recruiting volunteers has been difficult. The lack of
ASAT is problematic for inmates who want to participate in the Family Reunion Program
or need treatment for hepatitis C—both of which require ASAT completion.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four male COs, each of whom cited job security and benefits as their
motivation for entering corrections. They pointed to the lack of local employment
opportunities and various industries that have left the area. Two of the men have relatives
who work as COs.
They described the inmate population as younger and more violent than in the
past. “They have no regard for authority…a lot are involved in gangs.” One CO described
a gang ritual known as “razor-tag,” where inmates slice rival gang members to earn
respect. They describe today’s inmates as “anti-social,” “crazy” and “unpredictable.”
They said that drugs are a problem in the prison and that heroin is the most
sought-after drug. They believe that gangs control the prison drug trade and that visitors
rather than staff bring in most of the drugs.
They described varying ways in which they cope with and manage the inmates.
“You have to be on guard, always,” an officer said. “You’re dealing with people of all
different personalities. You have to be more of a social worker…you have to be their dad,
their doctor, their therapist. They’re deprived.”
They said they rely on the “tightly knit” nature of security staff for protection.
“The COs here watch each other’s backs, just as inmates watch each other’s backs.” They
expressed concern about various “diseases” they could contract from inmates. If they’re
exposed to an inmate’s blood, they said, they would like to know if he has HIV/AIDS or
hepatitis. (This information is only released if the inmate agrees to provide it.)


Special Housing Unit (SHU)
The tour of the SHU, comprised of 108 cells, was one of the most unsettling we
have experienced. Many of the inmates were mentally ill and confined in cells behind
thick metal doors or bars covered with Plexiglas to protect staff from “throwers.” Most
striking was the pervading sense of chaos and the way in which inmates with mental
illness are isolated, cut off from human contact and caged in barren, concrete cells.
Animals in zoos are kept in more humane conditions.
Approximately two-thirds of the inmates (60 out of 96) are on the OMH caseload,
having been diagnosed as “severely, persistently or seriously mentally ill.” Twenty-two
receive psychotropic medication. As we walked down the cellblock, many of the men
called out to us and pounded on their cell doors. The more stable inmates spoke of the
constant yelling and noise on the unit, the stench of feces and sweat, and the lack of
The administration dealt with an inmate known to light fires in his cell by
confining him in a dark cell with no light bulb. Another prisoner we spoke with became
unnerved when we asked him if he would not rather be housed in the mental health unit.
“They tie you down, leave you naked, force you to take drugs!” he shouted, referring to
the observation cells, where inmates are stripped of their clothing and can be put in fourpoint restraints and shackled to a bed. The inmate said he was sent to disciplinary
confinement for refusing to take his meds. It was difficult to hold conversations with
many of the men because of the noise on the unit and their unstable emotional state. The
COs appeared weary and inured to the environment.
Feedback from Inmates
Discussions with inmates in the cellblocks, yard and on the Inmate Liaison
Committee yielded a barrage of complaints about Great Meadow, particularly with regard
to treatment by correction officers. Specifically, inmates reported that:

COs threaten to revoke privileges or issue tickets for minor infractions such as not
tucking in their shirts, having untied shoelaces or untrimmed fingernails;
COs retaliate against inmates who submit grievances. “Because they’re all related
or all their buddies work in the prison, if you grieve one officer you’re going to
hear about it from the whole crew.”
COs create their own rules or enforce prison rules arbitrarily.
COs curse at inmates and use racial slurs.
The new policy of fining inmates $5 for Tier II and Tier III tickets is abused by
COs, who trump up the misbehavior reports to a fineable level.
COs set them up or threaten to set them up by planting weapons or drugs in their



Due to the tight-knit nature of the security staff, inmates feel they have no one to
turn to. Complaints to the Superintendent or Deputy Superintendents get passed
down to captains or sergeants, who pressure inmates to drop the charges.
The lack of programs adds to the tension. Too many prisoners have nothing to do,
they said—no job, no school, no vocational training. Many bemoaned the
elimination of ASAT and the requirement that inmates have to complete ASAT if
they want to be in the Family Reunion Program. They said that on some
weekends the trailers are empty despite the fact that there is a long waiting list to
be in the program.

Meeting with Executive Team
The administrative team seemed nonplussed by inmates’ complaints about COs.
They implied that inmates exaggerate, especially to sympathetic ears, and that their
violent behavior and disregard for the rules are the problem, not the treatment they
receive from staff. “Five or six years ago this place was known as gladiator school,” the
Superintendent said, “but not now.” With the expansion of disciplinary confinement
housing (over 3,000 supermax cells have been built between 1998 and 2000), they are
able to transfer problem inmates.
With regard to ASAT, the Superintendent informed us that ASAT has been
removed from all maximum-security prisons throughout the state—hardly an explanation
but underscoring his powerlessness to change the situation. We suggested he try to get
funding for an RSAT program (Residential Substance Abuse Treatment) similar to the
one at Attica and other maximum-security prisons.
On the subject of disciplinary tickets, the Deputy Superintendent said that he
reviews all Tier III tickets before the offense level is officially set and then again after the
punishment is determined. He denied any increase in Tier II and Tier III tickets since the
fine policy was implemented. The Superintendent reported that inmates are reimbursed
for all reversed tickets, and sometimes it takes a while.
We expressed concern about widespread idleness, and how it adds to the overall
tension in the prison. Superintendent Duncan said that he, too, “would like to see them all
programmed.” He has two instructor vacancies, one in the print shop and one in welding.
They have space and equipment for these programs, but no instructors.
Similarly, he wished he had more options for inmates with mental illness. He
expressed great frustration with the inadequacy of the current system to handle inmates
with mental illness, and the burden it places on staff. He described the administrative
hurdles he faces when attempting to admit an inmate to Central New York Psychiatric
Center (CNYPC) and the shortage of beds there—only 210 for the entire state prison
system of 70,000 inmates. We discussed the irrational process of shuffling inmates with
mental disorders from the SHU to CNYPC and then back to disciplinary housing to
complete their SHU sentence once they are stabilized (and where they usually deteriorate


again). The executive team did not disagree. Inmates with mental illness are the hot
potatoes of the system that no one wants to handle.




n May 29, 1998, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Marcy Correctional
Facility, a medium-security prison for men near Utica. Opened in 1988 with
800 inmates, the facility’s population has grown to over 1,700 inmates. There is a 200bed Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT) program and a
SHU-200, the first of nine freestanding supermaxes built on the grounds of mediumsecurity prisons. On the day of our visit, Marcy was operating at capacity with 1,703
The prison complex has ranch-style brick buildings and paved sidewalks to
accommodate approximately 200 wheelchair-bound inmates. First Deputy Superintendent
Wilfredo Batista explained that the Superintendent was out for the day and provided a
brief overview of the prison.
Medical Clinic
The clinic, a modern, attractively designed facility, appeared clean and orderly.
The nurse administrator spent about 45 minutes thoroughly answering our questions.
In addition to the nurse administrator, the medical team is comprised of a
physician and medical director, a part-time doctor, 2.5 registered nurses, two full-time
dentists, 2 dental assistants and one dental hygienist. There is nurse coverage 24 hours, 7
days a week. Mental health services are provided by Central New York Psychiatric
Center across the street, a state-run facility for inmates with mental disorders. Two
psychiatric social workers are at Marcy 20 hours a week; one psychiatrist works there
eight hours a week. Sick call for the general population is four days a week.
Approximately 45 inmates are seen daily.
It takes approximately five days to be seen by a doctor. Inmates with chronic
illnesses are tracked, with dates for follow-up appointments scheduled at each visit. Of
the 1,703 inmates, 130 are HIV+ and 25 have AIDS. An HIV coordinator visits weekly
for HIV testing and counseling. Approximately 10 to 15 tests are conducted weekly and
all inmates receive pre- and post-test counseling.
The nurse administrator spoke at length about her style of nursing and the kind of
treatment she provides. She said she rarely (not once in the past year) issues tickets to
inmates who she feels are abusing the system, but counsels them instead. She said she
makes a presentation at orientation for all new inmates, explaining how the health care
system works at Marcy, how to get tested for HIV, etc. She tells inmates to write her a
letter if they have a concern or grievance. We asked her to show us examples of inmate
letters, and she opened a folder with letters and copies of her hand-written responses.
We then met with the medical director, who struck us as less energetic and
knowledgeable than the nurse administrator. He spoke at length about inmate abuse of the


health care system. He expressed indignation about inmate lawsuits and said an inmate is
currently suing him over a hernia operation he performed. Before assuming his position
at Marcy, he had a private practice on the outside. He is a board-certified general
surgeon. The nurse administrator said that it has becoming increasingly difficult to attract
quality nurses to the prison because “even at the maximum levels of state pay, nursing
income in corrections still falls way short of community rates.” With overtime pay now
more available on the outside, nurses can earn significantly more and there is little
incentive to work with inmates.
With regard to quality assurance, she said that a regional medical director visits
twice a year to review records, procedures and practices. She said the clinic is ACAaccredited and received a high rating at the last ACA assessment.
Of the 200 inmates who arrived when the unit opened (four months before our
visit), 170 have worked their way through Level III in the Progressive Inmate Movement
System (PIMS) and have been returned to general population at their home facility. The
majority came in at Level II from such facilities as Southport, Elmira and Attica. The
Captain who oversees the SHU said that the inmates are motivated to follow the rules so
they can receive more privileges and a time cut.
Unlike Special Housing Units in maximum-security prisons, the SHU-200
supermax is high-tech disciplinary confinement: inmates live two men to a cell behind
thick metal doors in a kind of hermetically sealed environment, 23 hours a day, with little
natural light or outside contact. The cells are 105 square feet, with two metal beds
stacked along a wall, a desk and a stainless steel shower and toilet. At the back of the cell
is a door, centrally controlled, which opens onto a small, empty outdoor cage.
We spoke with approximately 40 inmates at all levels of restriction. Some of the
inmates were asleep; most were either playing cards, writing, or standing at the door
waiting to speak with us. The first two inmates, both in their early twenties, said they
spent their time reading the Bible and studying for the GED. “We quiz each other,” they
said, and held up a GED prep book the teacher had given them. One had been transferred
from the Clinton SHU, and said he was allowed to have more personal effects here, like
sneakers and pictures; both said the officers “don’t bother” them.
Another pair described conditions as “all right.” One had come from the SHU at
Oneida, the other from Auburn. They preferred Marcy overall; however, they bitterly
opposed the three-hour time limit on visits. Family members from New York City have
to travel 350 miles and spend the night on a bus for a mere three hours of visiting.
The inmates in the next cell, both of whom had been transferred from Midstate,
also lamented the three-hour limit on visits. (Apparently, the policy states that visits are
supposed to last four hours, but by the time the men are shackled, searched and escorted
to the visiting room, an hour has passed.) One man said he was gaining weight at Marcy


because the food was better and the portions were larger. They added that they didn’t like
double-celling—“Things get frustrating,” one of the prisoners said—and would prefer to
be housed alone.
The next cellmates, in their early twenties, had been transferred from the SHU in
Coxsackie and Southport. They said Marcy was much better in terms of food portions
and treatment from correction officers. The inmate from Southport, where he had been
locked in the SHU for three years, seemed off-balance and highly agitated. He was
maxing out in a couple of weeks. He will go straight from three years of 23-hour
lockdown to the community. “This place is like a candy store compared to Southport,” he
said. “The officers here are soft!” He and his cellmate laughed hysterically and then
asked if we could get them air conditioning.
The middle-aged men in the next cell were distressed and angry. They had both
come from keeplock at Attica, which they said was less restrictive. (In fact, keeplock
status is less restrictive: Inmates in keeplock are permitted more property and are usually
not restrained during out-of-cell movement. Transferring inmates in keeplock to a Special
Housing Unit for no legitimate reason appears to be an administrative violation.) They
reported that the lack of privacy was horrible, and they would prefer to be in solitary
Another pair, who were transferred from Southport, said Southport “runs better.”
They complained that Marcy recently changed its magazine policy and now they can’t
get magazines from their families. (The captain later said the policy was changed.
Magazines can be received from the publisher and brought in on the visits. The Deputy
Superintendent promised to distribute the new policy to the inmates and later sent us a
Another pair of men in their early 20s said they were glad that the administration
housed them together, but they didn’t think they could deal with the situation if they had
other cellmates. The prisoner transferred from the SHU in Elmira said he preferred Marcy
“because the police don’t mess with you here.”
The leading complaints were: clothes lost at the laundry; three hours for visits
versus the scheduled four; inadequate access to the law library; the poor selection of
library books; and lack of phone privileges.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The ILC’s major concern was inadequate medical services. They described
medical care at Marcy as “real bad” and far inferior to medical services at prisons such as
Attica and Shawangunk. They spoke about hostile and nasty treatment from nurses and
the length of time it takes to see a doctor. They did, however, praise the part-time
physician, who has training as a family practitioner.


They said the COs, in general, treated them well and fairly and in no way
impeded their access to medical care. They had high praise for the Superintendent and
Deputy Superintendent Batista. They rated facility programs as strong, in particular the
GED and computer courses, where inmates learn everything from data processing to
Microsoft Word and Windows 95.
We walked through the school, which looked more modern and clean than a
typical New York City public school. Students in the classrooms and computer lab
appeared engaged in their work.
Marcy has two drug treatment programs for a total of 180 inmates. They are
housed in separate therapeutic community dorms and sleep in bunk beds. ASAT, which is
run by DOCS, consists mainly of peer group sessions on substance abuse. On the day of
our visit, only 2 of the 8 staff positions were filled, leaving 2 instructors for 180
participants. The CASAT program is run by Phoenix House for inmates nearing release.
Inmates had more favorable comments regarding the Phoenix House program versus that
run by DOCS.
Marcy also has a range of specialized programs, including Winning Families
(parenting instruction); Aggression Replacement Therapy for violent felony offenders;
the Managing Anger, Stress and Keeplock (MASK) program; groups for inmates who are
HIV-positive and an independent study program for wheelchair-bound inmates.
Educational programs include pre-GED and GED classes in Spanish and English
and Adult Basic Education. Vocational programs include air conditioning/refrigeration,
building maintenance, computer lab, drafting, general business, small engines, appliance
repair, custodial maintenance, electrical trades and masonry.
Meeting with Executive Team
First Deputy Batista seemed eager to hear of our impressions, the majority of
which were positive. We told him of the favorable feedback we received throughout the
day from inmates regarding the executive team and the captain.
We raised the grievances from inmates in the SHU-200, which were not as serious
as we expected but were nonetheless troubling given the proliferation of these units
throughout the state and the management strategy of addressing crime in prison by
building prisons within prisons. He said that the Department went to great lengths to
make sure that the prototype SHU-200 operated smoothly and that officers were given
extensive training. He said that with regard to visits, the four-hour limit was dictated by
Central Office, not the facility, but that he would take steps to ensure that inmates
received their full four hours. (The Department subsequently increased the visiting period
to five hours.)


We shared with him our positive impressions of the nurse administrator and
comments from inmates that medical services at Marcy compared unfavorably to those at
other prisons. With regard to hostile treatment by nurses, the First Deputy Superintendent
remarked, philosophically, “It is the nurses who have to say ‘no’.”
We ended the day there, leaving with the sense that Marcy is generally a well-run
prison with adequate opportunities for inmates to make constructive use of their time.




n January 19, 2000, the Visiting Committee toured Mid-Orange Correctional
Facility, a medium-security prison for men about an hour north of
Manhattan. The prison was at capacity with approximately 740 prisoners.
Formerly a group home for boys, Mid-Orange and its grounds have the look of a
New England prep school: rolling hills, open fields, old stone buildings, and a pond with
Canadian geese.
Superintendent Henry Garvin gave us an overview of the facility, pointing out the
good relationship between the prison and the local community of Warwick, where inmate
crews perform public works and the prison donates vegetables from its farm.
We began our tour in the school and visited the one academic class that was being
held that morning, a pre-GED class. Colorful posters with uplifting messages decorated
the walls of the school: Only you can choose your direction. An ounce of optimism is
worth all the luck in the world. In a classroom of about a dozen students, several were
reading at their desks; a couple had their heads down. We spoke with a few of them and
the teacher.
According to the students, the instructors “don’t really teach.” The students
receive books and assignments and are expected to teach themselves and work through
various lessons. They said that before we arrived, they were told to “make it look good.”
Most of the other classrooms in the school were empty. We were told that the
teaching staff was reduced from 18 to 3 teachers over the past several years.
Parenting Class
We stopped by the new parenting class, where, by contrast, the men seemed
deeply interested in the presentation/discussion. They spoke of wanting to learn how to
be better fathers and how to repair their relationships with their children. They said they
would welcome literature and books on parenting skills.
The parenting class is complemented by the facility’s “Sesame Street program,”
designed to make visits easier on children and parents. The school auditorium is equipped
with private diaper changing stations, toys, games and children’s books. The stage has
been transformed into a play area painted with life-size cartoon characters. Community
volunteers watch the inmates’ children so that parents can visit and talk privately.


The dorms are low-lying buildings spread across the prison grounds. Men live
two to a cubicle and sleep in bunk beds. During the day, various dorms shut down on a
rotating schedule because there is not enough staff to keep them all open at the same
time. Many inmates complained about the lack of access to their living area. If they don’t
have a job or class to attend during the day, they get “herded into the gym to play cards or
basketball or lie around like homeless people,” one inmate said. Apparently, even
inmates who are sick and need to stay in bed are made to go to the gym. “You see guys
sick like dogs, lying on the gym floor in fetal position when they should be in bed!”
Superintendent Garvin countered that Mid-Orange is a “programmed facility—inmates
are busy during the days so closing the dorms makes good sense.” Anyone who is sick,
he said, goes to the clinic.
According to the inmates, the cuts in vocational and academic programs leave too
many men with nothing to do. The most common job, inmates said, is “pick and stick”—
picking up trash and cigarette butts from the grounds with a pointed stick.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The Inmate Liaison Committee discussed the idleness problem in more detail.
Despite the inviting grounds and the good-natured Superintendent, low morale pervades.
They explained that Mid-Orange was originally designed as a kind of step-down facility
for inmates from maximum-security prisons who are nearing release. But today, because
fewer men are granted parole, inmates can linger at Mid-Orange for six to ten years. They
said they need more programs and opportunities for meaningful work to prepare them for
life in the real world. Many of the inmates have already served long sentences at
maximum-security facilities and completed the available programs.
“It’s like we’ve been put out to pasture,” one inmate said. The serenity and natural
beauty of the setting has the effect of slowing down time. He said he would “go back to a
max tomorrow to get what little benefits are available,” such as family reunion visits and
a job in Corcraft. Another man said that the environment at Mid-Orange “allows you to
relax and let down your guard.” The openness, combined with the lack of programming,
creates an environment where inmates are so laid back that they “don’t want to do
anything.” Because they are not challenged academically or vocationally, they leave MidOrange unmotivated and unprepared to re-enter society.
The steady stream of parole denials has dampened their spirits considerably.
Inmates feel they have played by the rules, completed the required programs, earned their
GED and “reformed themselves” in exchange for parole. Yet they know parole will be
denied and they will be “hit” with another two years.


The inmates had few complaints about security staff or the administration. They
said that the COs tend to be older and more seasoned than COs at maximum-security
prisons. “They don’t have that cowboy mentality,” one man commented. COs with more
years on the job, they added, are more relaxed and confident.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four COs and began by asking what they enjoy about their work.
Responses included “it’s close to home,” “steady pay,” and “job security.” One CO said
he doesn’t enjoy anything about his job. “What’s there to like?” he shrugged. He added
that if one of his children said he wanted to be a CO when he grew up, he’d “slap him.”
None had college degrees and felt that they had few options outside the prison.
“This isn’t a career, it’s a job,” said one. Advancement is not worth the small increase in
salary, and promotions require too much relocation. The trade-off of being away from
their families or uprooting them isn’t worth it, they said.
We asked the COs to describe the inmate population. They made a distinction
between older inmates, whom they referred to as “real criminals…career criminals who
do their time and don’t cause problems,” versus the younger inmates, who “have never
done real prison time and just want to cause trouble.” Half of them are “crack babies,” an
officer said, “mentally retarded or just difficult to deal with. The older guys get sick of
them too.”
The COs also felt that the facility was in dire need of more programs. “Programs
are shot,” an officer said. There were once two floors of classrooms in the school and
many more teachers.
When we asked what they would like to change about their jobs, they all said
“more money.” Unlike other state prisons close to New York City, Mid-Orange does not
offer employees a geographic pay differential to compensate for the higher cost of living.
The COs also mentioned that it would be nice “to get a little more respect from the
people we work for,” meaning Central Office, not Mid-Orange officials. “We get more
respect from the inmates than Albany.”
They reported little tension between inmates and security staff. Personal safety is
not much of a concern, they said. The inmates rarely cause trouble.
Transitional Services Unit
We met with the three inmate coordinators of the transitional services program,
whose job is to prepare inmates for release. However, their lack of “clients” (due to
reduced parole releases) and resources make the program “seem like a bad joke.” The
men noted that inmates have no desire to participate “because they don’t believe they’re
getting out any time soon.”


The inmate coordinators are expected to provide life skills training to departing
inmates. However, they have received no training themselves and have few resources
available to carry out their assignment of helping inmates identify jobs, housing or other
community resources they will need upon release. The inmate-coordinators said they
attempt to teach their inmate-clients how to write a resume and how to dress and prepare
for an interview. They have no computers to generate resumes, however, and if they
“have one good typewriter working, I’m exaggerating,” one man said. Their directory of
community resources is fifteen years old.
The Deputy Superintendent of programs has apparently ignored their requests for
help and resources and was described by inmates throughout the facility as generally
apathetic. Moreover, there is high turnover among the correction counselors in charge of
overseeing the program. The inmates emphasized that they need more support from the
administration in order to do their jobs.
Meeting with Executive Team
We raised the issue of inmate idleness and low morale and were told that
budgetary constraints make additional programs virtually impossible. When we asked
about using inmates as teachers or teacher’s aides—inmates who have earned certificates
in DOCS programs or trades or who have professional skills or degrees—Superintendent
Garvin pointed out that the civilian unions are “staunchly against inmate program aides.”
Inmates cannot lead classes because they will displace civilian employees. He also
reported that his attempts to bring in new programs have been met with a lack of interest
from inmates. He said he requested input from inmates about the Aggression
Replacement Therapy program and only two men expressed interest. On a positive note,
he said that community members from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics
Anonymous will soon come to the facility four times a week to offer sessions in Spanish
and English. He is also trying to set up an internship program with students from nearby
Vassar College. Nearly every suggestion we made was shot down.
We left with the feeling that Mid-Orange is a missed opportunity. The cutbacks in
programs, the shrinking number of parole releases despite inmates’ best efforts, and the
union’s resistance to using inmates in the classrooms have created a demoralized
population and a pervading sense of inertia.




n February 23, 2000, the Visiting Committee toured Queensboro
Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison for men in the heart of
downtown Queens. The facility is a nondescript, six-story building housing 636 inmates
serving out the final 90 days of their sentence. There are also work release inmates who
are within 18 months of their parole eligibility date.
Superintendent Brian Fischer explained that Queensboro is unique in that it is the
last stop before release. “It is here that freedom—and the myriad concerns that come with
it—become reality,” he said. The average length of stay for general confinement inmates
is 45 days; for work release inmates it is six months. Because of the short length of stay,
he said, there are no vocational programs or educational classes.
The Superintendent addressed how his facility can help inmates and how it
cannot. One of the major problems, he said, is that because the men are still the
responsibility of DOCS, they cannot be “consumers” of any other agency’s benefits (e.g.,
Medicaid, public assistance). Because many inmates leave prison with very little money
and no health insurance, they will likely need public assistance as soon as they are
released, but applications take 45 days to process. The Superintendent thought it would
be helpful if representatives from the NYC Human Resources Administration, the agency
that processes public assistance applications, came to the facility to explain requirements,
eligibility, etc.
A related problem is that some inmates on work release need outpatient substance
abuse treatment, but again, they cannot access such programs without public assistance,
and they can’t get public assistance because they’re incarcerated. Superintendent Fischer
suggested that greater coordination among state and city service agencies would
minimize the gap between inmates’ release and the actual start of services.
Tour of the Facility
We visited several housing areas, essentially large dormitories with row upon row
of bunk beds. The limited time inmates spend in the dorms appears to mitigate the
crowded accommodations. Inmates complained mainly about idleness, having nothing to
do but go to the yard. With regard to treatment by correction officers, most of the inmates
we spoke with described COs as fair. Several men, however, said that some COs threaten
to send them back upstate for failure to comply with rules. While some COs are “looking
to push your buttons,” according to one inmate, most said that COs at Queensboro are
much better compared to COs upstate. One inmate described the COs as “terrific” and
reported that there is mutual respect between inmates and correction staff.
The library was well-stocked with fiction, nonfiction and reference materials for
ex-offenders. There were three computers and an electric typewriter. Due to budget


restrictions, however, the library is open only half a day, Monday through Friday. The
Superintendent said he is trying to get a budget allocation for a full-time librarian.
The gym was spacious and equipped with a basketball court, stair climbers and
sit-up benches. Superintendent Fischer said he doesn’t allow free-weights. Outside is a
courtyard with handball courts and picnic tables.
Meeting with Correctional Counselors
We had lunch with eight correctional counselors and the Deputy Commissioner of
Programs, Frank Headly, from Central Office. The counselors explained their role in
facilitating inmates’ transition to the outside. They help them obtain their social security
cards and birth certificates, write resumes and find jobs. The counselors reported that
some inmates don’t take advantage of the facility’s transitional services. “They just want
to hang out, watch TV, play basketball, and go to chow.”
They said that most of the men arrive at Queensboro “very unprepared for
release.” “We have to start at square one,” a counselor commented. “The counselors they
had upstate are totally unaware of the New York City job market.” They described
transitional services throughout the state prison system as “haphazard.” Some programs
are run by untrained inmates who have spent their last decade locked up. Ideally, they
felt, inmates should arrive at Queensboro with social security cards and birth certificates
(essential pieces of ID for employment), but many do not. Nor do they come with
resumes. Some have certificates from programs they completed in trades such as floor
covering, electrical wiring and plumbing. The counselors said these certificates can help
with employment, but they emphasized the need for more training in the service industry
or other areas more applicable to the New York City job market. More general business
classes would be helpful, they said, and participation in these classes should qualify for
Merit Time, which provides early release for certain offenders. (Unlike other vocational
or academic programs, business classes do not count toward Merit Time.)
Men on work release have six weeks to find employment, and most find jobs. If
an inmate is still unemployed after six weeks, his counselor will try to get him factory
work. The state works with an agency called Wildcat, a job training and placement group
for “the hard-core unemployable,” which employs inmates on work release and helps
with resume preparation and job development. The counselors noted that inmates’ parole
officers rarely follow up with Wildcat to ensure that inmates remain at their jobs. They
noted the poor coordination by the Division of Parole generally. Deputy Superintendent
Headly interjected that, ideally, transitional services “should start the day the inmate
enters the system.” He said he is putting together a transitional services committee that
will evaluate services and design a “transitional services manual.”
The correctional counselors have a caseload of approximately 50 inmates each—a
manageable number, they said, compared to the caseloads of correctional counselors
upstate, which average about 125 inmates. They said that they often develop close
relationships with work release inmates because they are in regular contact not only with


them, but with their employers and families. Some inmates, they said, have no home to
return to upon release. “On any given day,” said Superintendent Fischer, “two or three
inmates leave here and go directly to a shelter.” Counselors told of inmates starting fights
with COs to avoid being released to a shelter.
Meeting with Correction Officers
The five COs we met with differed from COs upstate in several ways. First, all of
them were people of color: three black males, one Hispanic male, and one black female.
(87% of the Queensboro correction staff are people of color, compared to just 5% in the
Department overall.)
When asked what they liked about the job, they spoke about the opportunity to
make a difference for inmates. “I like talking to the young fellas and trying to redirect
them and encourage them,” one CO said. Another commented that he derives satisfaction
from seeing the men improve over time. “They enter with bad attitudes and leave having
Because most of the officers are from New York City, they seemed more attuned
to the inmates’ backgrounds and the problems they face upon release. “These streets are
mean,” one officer said. “You can’t give a man $25 and just put him out in the street.”
The female officer, who is the disciplinary hearing officer at the facility, said that inmates
would “rather stay here than go to a shelter.”
In response to what they dislike about their jobs, they all noted the salary, which
is insufficient in the metropolitan area and below that of New York City correction
officers. Another issue they raised was the difficulty shifting from their work persona to
the family persona. “I can’t be a CO when I’m home and I can’t treat inmates like I treat
my children,” he said. The COs said they often feel stress from the job and would
appreciate counseling services or having a human resources representative to talk to when
they need support.
We asked about job advancement, and similar to other COs we have interviewed,
they bemoaned the numerous relocations that promotions require. They spoke about the
racism they experienced when they worked in upstate prisons. All of them described
negative experiences living in upstate communities. “Racism up there is blatant,” said
one officer. “Inside the jail we would have each other’s backs, but when you walk outside
the wall you can’t go into the local diner without people staring at you. Officers run the
towns up there, and they let you know you don’t belong.”
They also said that finding affordable housing is difficult, and many COs end up
commuting long distances. One man said he traveled 85 miles per day. Mandatory
overtime becomes a problem for people with long commutes, who must return to work
within hours after getting home. Another CO said that when he worked at an upstate
facility, he slept in the back of a camper he shared with a coworker. He would sleep
while his buddy was working and then they would switch. Thus, racism and lack of


desire to uproot their families prevent many people of color from wanting to move
upstate. These problems create a barrier to their advancement and to achieving staff
diversity in prisons upstate.
To address the racism, the COs suggested that the cultural diversity sessions at the
Training Academy be expanded. They also suggested a type of exchange program, where
officers from upstate do part of their on-the-job training at a city facility such as Arthur
Kill or Queensboro to get a better understanding of inmates’ backgrounds, culture, etc.
The COs spoke about sergeants and lieutenants who were transferred to Queensboro and
worked alongside black and Hispanic officers—some for the first time—and sent thank
you letters to the staff after they left, describing the experience as positive and eyeopening.
The COs said there is far less tension at Queensboro than in maximum-security
facilities. Use of force is a rare occurrence. “Beatings are old school,” they said. “Today’s
correction officers are better trained and educated.” They gave the administration high
marks and said they appreciated Superintendent Fischer’s good nature and open door
style of management.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
We met with the ILC, which was not as cohesive or organized as other ILCs we
have seen, likely due to the short length of stay and high turnover of the inmate
population. Their major complaint was that COs threaten to send them back upstate for
petty violations. “They say things like ‘If you don’t make this bed or do this task, I’ll take
your date,’” one man said. With their release dates so close, inmates have a lot to lose and
correction officers know this.
They spoke about program cuts in upstate prisons, particularly in maximumsecurity facilities, and how, as a result, they feel unprepared for re-entry to the
community. They noted that when they are transferred from one prison to another, which
can happen at any time and for no apparent reason, there is no continuity of programs and
no guarantee that the program they were in exists the other facility. They would like to
see college classes re-instated. On a positive note, they said that “everyday, some group
is in here offering testing or education about HIV.”
Debriefing Meeting with Executive Team
Superintendent Fischer and his staff spent over an hour with us, discussing a
range of problems that will require state, local and federal collaboration to remedy, such
as public assistance approval for inmates nearing release. He commented that some
inmates do not want to leave because “in prison he’s somebody but outside he’s no one.”
We raised the issue of crowded dormitories, which the Superintendent said he is
aware of. He is hoping that the Department will recognize the need for expansion since
more and more men are being transferred to Queensboro.


We discussed the lack of housing and jobs for ex-inmates. He acknowledged that
his staff is good at assessment, able to outline the problems, abilities and needs of the
men, but lacks the resources to meet these needs. It was generally agreed that more can
and should be done to make Queensboro a more useful transitional facility for inmates
preparing to re-enter society. (Since the time of our visit, the Department implemented a
specialized transitional services program at the facility to assist inmates in accessing
public assistance, Medicaid and job-training.)




n November 15, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Shawangunk
Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for men about 90 minutes
north of Manhattan. With fewer than 600 inmates, Shawangunk is the state’s smallest
maximum-security prison. It is also home to many of the system’s “lifers,” inmates
serving long-term or life sentences. Of the 577 prisoners who were there on the day of
our visit, 380 were serving life sentences. The average prison sentence at Shawangunk is
24 years.
We met with Superintendent Leonard Portuondo, a 34-year veteran of DOCS. He
has been Shawangunk’s Superintendent for five years; his current executive team has
been in place less than six months. He reported that the prison is relatively calm. It has
the lowest rate of Unusual Incidents (assaults, contraband, deaths, escapes, etc.) in the
state system. Over 60% of the inmates have a 12th grade education. “These are the most
highly educated prisoners I’ve worked with,” he said. The proximity to New York City
and the facility’s Family Reunion Program help keep violence and tension at a minimum.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
We met with six members of the ILC, whose introductory remarks made clear the
breathtaking length of their sentences. “I’ve been in prison for 27 years,” one man said.
Another inmate said he had “23 calendars down,” prison parlance for 23 years in the
system. “A lot of us expect to die here. This is a terminal prison.”
The hopelessness is most difficult on the younger men, they said. “We just had a
21-year-old kid come in with a sentence of 120 years. We’re trying to help him.”
Their major concerns focused on treatment from COs and idleness owing to a lack
of programs. “Most of the inmates here are intelligent,” one member said, “but the
officers don’t recognize that. We have the lowest rate of UI’s and a complacent, passive
population. The way the officers treat us isn’t justified.” Officers, particularly those on
the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift, they said, are hostile, retaliatory and racist. “It’s like dealing
with people from Mars…They tell the inmates, ‘I am the law. I don’t have to follow the
law.’” No one polices the COs on the evening shift, the inmates said. “They go out of
their way to harass us.”
Of particular concern is pat frisks. “They conduct pat frisks like you’re going to
the SHU or like they already found a weapon on you. They have you spread eagled
against the wall, in an awkward position so that you come off the wall and they have an
excuse to take you down.” Because the prisoners have to remove their shoes, it is easy to
slip or lose one’s balance. The ILC said they raised the issue with the Superintendent,
who agreed to order mats and have them placed in an area known as “Times Square,”
where pat frisks are frequently conducted. Apparently, the mats arrived, but they were not
being used.


Under the previous administrative team, they said, pat frisks were conducted with
a sergeant present—not so anymore. Apparently, the former captain investigated
allegations of staff misconduct and once even had an officer suspended as a result. They
said that “the administration is not a problem,” but some of the officers “make their own
rules and ignore directives.” They reported that some COs are fair, but “the bad guys taint
the good guys.” The tight-knit nature of the CO community makes it difficult for fairminded officers to stand up to unprofessional coworkers. “They’ll call you an inmatelover,” one man said. “They’ll tell you, ‘I gotta work with the guy,’ or, ‘He drives me
home.’” Finally, it is problematic that there is only one hearing officer to investigate
tickets and conduct disciplinary hearings, i.e. that the same person serves as both juror
and judge. “You’re assumed guilty. The whole process just guarantees keeplock.”
The discussion then turned to idleness and lack of programs. Out of a population
of 547 inmates, 375 are porters. (A high number of porters indicates widespread
idleness.) The ILC reported that their request to have the New York Theological
Seminary program at Shawangunk was denied, and that there are no academic classes
available to inmates who already have their GED, which many long-term prisoners do.
Moreover, the number of IPA (Inmate Program Associate) positions has been cut over
recent years because of pressure from the Professional Educators Federation (PEF) union.
The union fears that IPAs, who serve as teacher aides, will take away jobs from civilian
teachers. Thus, inmates who once tutored other inmates, helped men to read and study for
the GED, now cut grass and mop floors. Meanwhile, the general business class is no
longer operational: The teacher retired and a room of new computers sits empty.
The inmates felt that getting additional programs is unlikely. Central Office’s
Deputy Commissioner for Program Services recently visited Shawangunk and reportedly
told inmates that it is “politically not attractive” for DOCS to invest in programs at
maximum-security prisons. Providing “lifers” with programs would appear soft on crime.
(This point is not only disputable but could be easily refuted on the grounds that
programs are good prison management tools.)
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
Shawangunk’s Special Housing Unit consists of 24 single cells, all of which were
occupied at the time of our visit. The unit is dungeon-like: dark, dreary and isolated in a
separate wing of the prison with little natural light. Some of the cells have bars; others
have thick metal doors with small windows.
The unit was quiet and still; the inmates we interviewed seemed detached and had
few complaints about staff, food portions, showers, recreation or medical services. An
individual correction officer was cited for his professionalism and humane treatment.
None of the inmates appeared floridly mentally ill (as we’ve seen in other SHUs).
Four of the 24 men were on the OMH caseload; two received psychotropic medication.


Particularly striking was length of their sentences. We met inmates sentenced to
10 years, 12 years, 14 years in the hole. Others had sentences of three to five years. The
Superintendent said he has the authority to reduce SHU sentences for good behavior,
which he said he often does. He spoke to a few of the men and promised to review their
cases. He also discussed a new procedure to counteract “toxic SHU syndrome,” the
mental deterioration that can occur after months (in this case, years) of isolation and
sensory deprivation. He expressed concern for inmates with such long sentences in the
SHU and asked the mental health staff to monitor inmates’ more closely. He said he was
considering creating a private counseling area where inmates could meet with mental
health counselors.
Close Supervision Unit
Members toured the Close Supervision Unit (CSU), a separate area of the prison
that seemed to be a combination of administrative segregation and protective custody,
plus an “adjustment” area for inmates who have finished their SHU sentence and are
awaiting transfer to general population. Inmates who are considered escape risks are also
housed in CSU.
The unit has its own mess hall. Sixty-four inmates were there the day of our visit;
six were double-celled. Inmates criticized the unit as not in keeping with any Central
Office directive. One inmate said he was not permitted to attend the hearing that resulted
in his transfer to the CSU. The inmates were generally bitter about being there. They
bemoaned the lack of programming and the days on end with nothing to do.
Lifers’ Committee
We met with the Lifers’ Committee, an impressive and articulate group of men
who offer support and resources to inmates serving life sentences. The group is currently
lobbying for legislation that could reduce their sentences. “We are trying to free
ourselves,” one man said.
The group is also working on a victim-offender mediation program based on the
restorative justice model. The inmates would like to initiate discussions with interested
victims “to bring healing and closure.” One man pointed out that “some of us are not the
same people we were when we committed our crimes.” They reported that a national
victim’s rights organization expressed interest in helping them with the program, but the
administration halted the project. “We were told that the issue is too political.”
Medical Clinic
We met with the medical director and nurse administrator, both of whom
impressed us as competent and energetic. A major problem, they said, is that
Shawangunk has only one physician for 575 inmates, and this physician also serves as the
medical director. They desperately need a physician’s assistant. The lack of adequate
physician coverage places a significant burden on existing staff.


With regard to infectious diseases, the medical director reported that 25 inmates
are HIV positive and 22 are on antiretroviral treatment. The nurse administrator noted
that the facility makes extensive use of telemedicine, particularly with infectious disease
consultations. Telemedicine improves the quality and continuity of care, she added, and
saves on security and transportation costs.
Mental Health Services
We were similarly impressed with the psychologist and social worker. They
showed us the “Post 30-Day Evaluation Form” they designed for correction officers and
mental health employees to use to monitor inmates in the SHU. By having both COs and
mental health staff use the same form, communication is improved and both parties are
engaged in identifying and tracking mental decompensation, self-mutilation and other
manifestations of “toxic SHU syndrome.”
Fifty-five of the prison’s 547 inmates are on the OMH caseload, though the
psychologist commented that, in his estimation, about half of the inmates are afflicted
with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD). This observation is supported in the
literature; some studies have shown that the portion of institutionalized criminals with
antisocial personality disorder can be as high as 40%. ASPD is characterized by an
inability to delay gratification and conform to social norms, recklessness, aggression, and
lack of remorse. The psychologist noted that while there is no treatment for ASPD, it can
be managed through a highly-structured living environment, where rules are enforced
consistently and there are immediate and direct consequences for breaking them.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four members of the security staff, three males and one female. In
response to why they entered the field, one man said he majored in criminal justice in
college and had friends who were COs. The female officer said she was drawn to the
challenge of the job. Another officer also majored in criminal justice in college, took
several civil service exams and DOCS was the first agency to accept him. The third male
officer has a father and two brothers who are also COs.
The officers spoke positively of the new executive team. The Deputy
Superintendent of security has “an open-door policy,” they said. “He does a lot of
walking and talking.” Another officer noted that the working environment is “much more
relaxed” now. They reported having “a lot of paperwork” under the previous supervisor.
“He didn’t trust us to make a decision. He didn’t let us do our jobs. It all had to come
from upstairs,” according to one CO. A second officer explained that when inmates were
pat-frisked, a sergeant had to be present.
When we commented that inmates perceive their pat frisking techniques as heavyhanded and intentionally hostile, the officers defended their actions as necessary to find
concealed weapons and drugs. One CO offered that he “could understand why an inmate


would carry a weapon for defensive purposes.” They reported finding wood and Plexiglas
shanks during pat frisks, which do not set off the metal detector and can only be detected
through pat frisks.
When asked what would make their jobs easier, they cited more programs.
“There’s a lot of idle time here.” An officer said that academic programs are better than
vocational programs, where inmates can get tools and make weapons. Another CO noted
that there are “too many inmates with college degrees sweeping floors.” He said he has
10 porters on his unit in the afternoon and “there isn’t enough work for them because the
morning porters already cleaned the unit earlier in the day.”
With regard to their perception of inmates, they commented: “Inmates here have
more education and are more communicative; you can reason with them.”
As for training, they all felt that they needed more training to perform their jobs
effectively. One officer said he would like to learn how to use a video camera because
there are situations where the Department requires recording movement on camera, such
as when officers transport inmates to the SHU. He said he could also “use a refresher” on
how to put restraints on an inmate. A second CO said he needed training in dealing with
inmates with psychiatric problems. “You want to be able to pick up on the problem
before you approach him,” the officer reported. “It’s not to diagnose them,” he added,
“but to enable you to better deal with them.” Another officer cited interpersonal
communication skills as important, noting that he would “like to be able to talk someone
down without threatening him.” He said he “had a big giant guy crying on [his]
shoulder.” The officer also mentioned training in identifying drugs, gangs and weapons.
The fourth CO said that the on-the-job training requirement at the Academy should be
extended to a full week. Currently, he said, “you get two days to learn the jail and they
throw you in.” The officers agreed that an extended training period at one’s assigned
prison would be beneficial for officers and inmates alike.
Meeting with Executive Team
The discussion began with the strenuous complaints we received regarding CO
misconduct, particularly on the 3 p.m.-to-11 p.m. shift. The Superintendent said that if
officers on that shift mistreat the inmates, he would be aware of it. He explained that he
arrives at the prison at 6:30 in the morning and often remains for part of the evening shift.
His 12-hour days provide him with the opportunity to stay in touch with security staff on
each of the three shifts.
We reported inmates’ complaints that COs are antagonistic or overly aggressive
when conducting pat frisks. “I don’t think that’s an uncommon perception,” the
Superintendent said, “but I don’t think it’s totally true.” He acknowledged that the
frequency and manner of pat frisking “has been an ongoing issue. I won’t say it isn’t an
issue, but we’ve been able to make the prison safer.” He said he decided that the mats
were unnecessary.


He went on to explain that inmate weapons have evolved from metal to wood and
now plastic. He showed us samples of weapons that COs have found on inmates—
shanks, toothbrushes, and long wooden picks. Justifying pat frisk procedures, he
explained, “We have to find these weapons and they’re hidden.” The security captain said
he works two nights a week to monitor how the evening shift conducts pat frisks. “I am
told by inmates that they are being done correctly because I’m here,” he reported.
Commenting on CO misconduct, the Superintendent said he monitors grievance
reports for officer names that commonly appear. The executive team meets weekly to
examine grievances and explore why the numbers might be high in a certain area. He said
that the employee discipline process starts with informal counseling followed by written
documentation if grievances persist, and finally a Notice of Discipline issued by Central
Office. Employment status is a union issue, he said. Transferring a CO can only occur
with consent from the union. Moreover, a Superintendent cannot fire an officer. He added
that he is responsible for 400 employees represented by four unions.
We raised the issue of inmate idleness. Superintendent Portuondo acknowledged
that Shawangunk lost the general business program, volunteer tutors and the building
maintenance program. “We have a huge need for the business program here and are
actively pursuing getting it restored,” he said. They need a budget waiver to hire a
teacher, he said. Apparently DOCS approved the waiver, but the Department of Budget
denied it. He added that he would like to see the Corcraft industry program returned to
his prison since “it would allow the men to earn more money.” The New York
Theological Seminary plans have stalled because it would be “inmates teaching classes,
not outside civilians,” which the Professional Employees Union opposes.
We asked about the Lifers’ Committee’s restorative justice program. He said that
the Central Office would have to approve it because there would likely be pressure from
inmates in other prisons to expand it system-wide.
In closing, the Superintendent said he agrees that they need additional staff, but
that it must be done in “incremental changes.” He told us “ASAT is on the table” and
could be added soon, and that he is “trying hard to get Corcraft.”




n June 27, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Sing Sing
Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison for men in Westchester
County. Built in 1825 on the banks of the Hudson River, Sing Sing is a hodge-podge of
old guard towers, massive cell blocks, four yards, a modern parking garage, the state’s
original death house, and a medium-security annex, Tappan, opened in the 1970s.
Together, the two prisons hold 2,227 men.
Superintendent Brian Fischer, also the supervising Superintendent of the hub, has
been at Sing Sing for three months. He was previously Superintendent of Queensboro
Correctional Facility. He provided an overview of the prison, and, in response to a
visitor’s question about his “wish list” for improvements, he cited more space and staff
for programs. Only 3 of 8 teaching positions are filled, he said. The medical clinic is also
understaffed, with approximately two-thirds of the nursing positions vacant. In describing
the Sing Sing philosophy, the Deputy Superintendent of security called it “walk and
talk… conversation before confrontation,” usual for a maximum-security prison.
Mental Health Services
We met with the unit chief, who reported that the unit was fully staffed with 3
social workers, 2 psychologists, 2 part-time psychiatrists, 5 registered nurses and a
recreational therapist. None speak Spanish.
Approximately 400 inmates (nearly 25% of the general population) receive
mental health services, e.g. counseling and/or psychotropic medication. Approximately
300 inmates are on psychotropic medication, the majority of whom are classified as Level
1 or 2, diagnosed as “significantly, seriously or persistently mentally ill.” We were told
that schizophrenia is the most common mental disorder among the inmate-patients. The
unit chief estimated that there are about 200 schizophrenics in the general population.
“With de-institutionalization, we have a lot more mentally ill people in prison,” he said.
The unit contains 18 dormitory beds, 6 observation cells for inmates on suicide
watch, a day room and a small cafeteria. The observation cells had bars covered with
netting rather than solid metal doors as we’ve seen at other facilities. Each cell has a
metal bed and mattress, a toilet and stainless steel sink. In terms of staffing, conditions
and services, the unit was one of the best we have seen.
Intermediate Care Program (ICP)
We toured the ICP—basically a block of cells in a long, narrow corridor. Each
cell has its own window, an improvement over those in general population. From a
programmatic perspective, however, the ICP compared unfavorably to others we have
visited. There was no dayroom, classroom or program area. Nothing about it seemed


therapeutic or designed for much else besides segregation. Staff seemed to know little
about the inmates, their progress or the programs available to them.
Medical Clinic
We spoke at length with the nurse administrator and medical director and
marveled at their ability to perform their jobs in the face of so many obstacles. The clinic
was crowded, run-down and accessible only by one elevator (or four flights of stairs).
Fortunately, the Department is in the process of building a new infirmary. The sick call
area was a bullpen, jam-packed with inmates, waiting to be seen by medical staff. There
were not enough chairs so most of the men stood shoulder to shoulder, sweating
profusely in the 85-degree heat. A fan stood outside of the bullpen, blowing the hot air
While the new clinic will remedy infrastructure problems, a more entrenched
problem is shortage of staff. Currently, 8 out of 21 nursing positions are vacant, one of
three physician positions is vacant, there is no pharmacist onsite and only one medical
clerk to handle the medical records of over 2,000 inmates.
The staff vacancies, the Superintendent explained, are due to noncompetitive state
salaries and the proximity of several large hospitals, which pay more and are less
hazardous places to practice medicine. Like other prisons, Sing Sing copes with the
shortages by hiring per diem nurses. This practice is expensive and disrupts continuity of
We also learned that the local ambulance service, the Ossining Fire Department,
does not pick up inmates. Instead, the facility relies on a contracted service with a private
company. (Apparently, an inmate destroyed the inside of an ambulance several years
before, and the Fire Department has refused to pick up inmates ever since.) It does,
however, pick up prison staff (correction officers, civilians, etc.) and arrives within 5 to 7
minutes. The private service for inmates takes approximately 40 minutes to arrive. The
situation is compounded by the absence of a defibrillator on the unit and no medical
personnel who are certified to administer Advanced Care Life Support. (Since our visit,
the Fire Department has agreed to pick up inmates and the clinic has a defibrillator.)
Despite the hundreds of inmates on psychotropic medication, there is no crosschecking between DOCS and OMH records to determine whether certain drug
combinations could have adverse effects. In addition, we were told that there is no
automated medical records and tracking system, insufficient staff time to conduct Quality
Assurance, and too few specialty clinics to meet the needs of the inmate population—all
in all, a very grim situation.
Alcohol Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT)
There are two Alcohol and Substance Abuse Training (ASAT) programs, one for
the inmates at Sing Sing and the other for inmates at Tappan. Program length varies, with


a minimum stay of six months; it is not uncommon, however, for men to spend years in
the Tappan ASAT program. Classes in substance abuse and anger management are
conducted. At the time of our visit, the Sing Sing ASAT program had no counseling staff,
only a director, who reported that one of the two counselors had quit and the other was on
maternity leave. Meanwhile, the waiting list of inmates, he said, “could be in the
The program at Tappan, administered by two credentialed substance abuse
counselors, seemed better run. Inmates reported a waiting list of only a few weeks. It was
quiet on the day we toured—groups and classes had been cancelled because of the heat.
A counselor said that during the summer he rarely conducts more than an hour of class a
day because the men are too hot and uncomfortable to concentrate.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four COs: two black males, one white male and one black female. In
response to why they entered corrections, they cited job security and benefits. In response
to what they like best about their jobs, a couple of them laughed. “Next question,” one
After some prodding, one officer said he likes the predictability of a steady shift.
He said he could figure out the days he will be working for the next ten years. Another
appreciated the camaraderie with his fellow officers and feels he is helping to keep New
York safe. He added that he likes “dealing with people…inmates ask me about life and I
can be a role model.”
Echoing the Deputy Superintendent, the officers emphasized “conversation before
confrontation.” One officer, in comparing relations with inmates at Sing Sing to those at
other facilities, said, “Down here we talk more.” They attributed the better inmate-staff
relations to the “large number of black and Hispanic correction staff who come from the
same neighborhoods as the inmates . . .it enables our officers to know what the inmates
are talking about.”
The officers did not hesitate to discuss the downsides of their jobs. Inadequate
staffing was top on the list and seemed to foster a great deal of bitterness. On the night
shifts, they said, there are 75 inmates per officer. Officers in the yard need more back-up,
they said, and another guard tower is essential. They also believe their wages don’t come
close to compensating them adequately for the hazards and difficulty of the job, or to
meeting the cost of living in Westchester County.
With regard to training, they all felt that more on-the-job training was needed.
They noted, however, that when Sing Sing used to absorb more rookie officers, assaults
on staff and uses of force incidents increased. They suggested that the training academy
offer sociology and psychology classes so that they can better understand the mindset and
backgrounds of the inmates.


The COs believe that inmates have “changed drastically” in the past decade.
“They are more capable of violence and more willing to go up against authority.”
At several points the officers indicated that morale at Sing Sing is low. One way
to improve it, they said, would be for the administration to apprise them of policy
changes more regularly. The union would also like to meet more frequently with the
Overall, the officers represented a different mindset than their counterparts at
maximum-security prisons upstate. There was a notable absence of the “us versus them”
mentality and a more nuanced understanding of inmates’ backgrounds that seemed
attributable to the prison’s proximity to New York City and the greater number of
officers of color.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
We asked about inmate-staff relations at Sing Sing and how they compare to
those in other maximum-security prisons. The inmates (who had spent time in other state
prisons) said that the greater racial diversity of the staff at Sing Sing creates a more
relaxed environment. One man explained that the COs and inmates “share certain
common ground to solve certain problems.” Another inmate reported “criticism isn’t so
bad when it’s coming from someone who looks like you.”
Also unusual for maximum-security prisoners were the types of grievances they
raised and the generally low level of indignation. Their grievances were more like those
we hear at medium-security prisons. Delays in receiving packages (sometimes for two
weeks or more) was cited, as well as COs sitting in on inmate medical exams, breaching
confidentiality. Inmates also reported that COs and nurses can be found “hanging out and
smoking” in the clinic. Their most strenuous complaint concerned program cuts over the
past five years and the recent cancellation of various summer recreation programs,
including a popular basketball tournament.
We spent time in A yard and B yard, where several hundred inmates were playing
handball, lifting weights, using the outdoor showers and milling about. We had brief
conversations with a number of inmates, most of whom spoke well of facility operations
and staff. The complaints they raised included the following:

Lengthy delays in receiving disbursement forms and money orders;
Delays of up to two weeks to receive packages;
No grievance forms on the blocks;
Two- to three-month waiting lists for programs;
Insufficient phones and/or phone time in the yards;
No water fountain in the handball/weight areas;
The 20-minute delay in evacuating critically ill inmates from the yards;



Program cancellations, particularly a pre-GED class administered by the
Termination of various summer recreation programs;
Lack of action taken against officers known to mistreat inmates: “Sing Sing
rotates the bad apples;”
Inadequate supervision of officers generally;
Cockroach problems.

Meeting with Executive Team
We brought up the complaints we received before the visit from several volunteer
agencies about delays in transportation, hostility from guards on the gate and a general
sense that their services were no longer welcome. The Superintendent said that the
number of volunteers “wasn’t manageable.” When he arrived at Sing Sing there were
approximately 400 volunteers on the facility list, many of whom were inactive. By
limiting eligibility to those who participate regularly, he said, the list was reduced to 280
volunteers. The Deputy Superintendent of security said that he had solved the
transportation delays. The Superintendent told us to have the volunteer groups contact his
office directly.
In response to delays in receiving packages, the Superintendent acknowledged
that there is a problem and that the package room processes 50,000 packages each year.
“The numbers are against us,” he said.
Regarding the lack of programs in the ICP, he said that the layout of the unit
makes organizing programs difficult. He acknowledged that the unit is inadequately
staffed. We suggested he look at the ICPs at Attica and Wende Correctional Facility.
In response to correction officers’ concerns about insufficient security staff, the
Deputy Superintendent of security said that Sing Sing is adequately staffed security-wise
and that a new guard tower will soon be constructed.
With regard to the woeful medical services, we informed the Superintendent that
we would communicate our concerns directly to the chief medical officer, Dr. Lester
Wright, in Albany. Some of the problems would obviously be resolved with the opening
of the new infirmary, but others, such as staffing shortages, require different solutions.
Several months after our visit and following discussions with Dr. Wright and
Superintendent Fischer, the ambulance response time was reported to have improved.




n April 25, 2001, the Prison Visiting Committee visited Southport
Correctional Facility, New York State’s first supermax prison. Opened in
1991 and approximately 70 miles west of Binghamton, the prison holds up to 780 male
inmates in disciplinary confinement. The day of our visit, the prison was under capacity
with 674 inmates and 106 empty cells.
Southport prisoners are locked in single cells 24 hours a day (save for an hour of
court-mandated recreation) Approximately 150 cadre inmates are housed two men to a
cell and serve as the work crew for the facility.
We met first with Superintendent Michael McGinnis, who has been at Southport
since it opened. He gave us a brief overview of the facility, noting that it is sometimes
referred to as “Safeport” because of its high level of security and inmate safety. Prisoners
sent to Southport have engaged in serious misconduct, he said, such as assaulting
correction officers or inmates. “Southport is the end of the line,” a Deputy Superintendent
commented. Most of the inmates have SHU sentences of over six months.
There is minimal contact among prisoners themselves and prisoners and staff.
Inmates are shackled (handcuffed in the front to waist chains or cuffed behind the back
and with leg irons if they are known to kick or assault staff) during all out-of-cell
movement. To give inmates incentive to improve their behavior, Southport uses the
Progressive Inmate Movement System (PIMS). PIMS is a three-stage classification
system, through which inmates can earn increased privileges. New arrivals are assigned
to Level I, the most restrictive level and at which they remain for a minimum of 30 days.
At Level I, they receive only two showers a week and must remain in restraints, cuffed in
front with waist chain, during all out-of-cell movement, including their one-hour of
recreation in outdoor cages and legal and nonlegal visits. They have no commissary
privileges, no access to the facility’s radio system via earphones and cannot participate in
the cell study program. The minimum criterion for movement from Level I to Level II is
thirty days from the last misbehavior report or imposed disciplinary sanctions. A captain
or his designee decides movement to Level II.
At Level II, inmates can have restraints removed in the exercise cages and in the
visiting room and can enroll in a cell study program. Inmates can also hook up to the
facility’s radio system with earphones and make a monthly commissary purchase. With
continued good behavior, an inmate can progress to Level III. At that level, he can make
one collect phone call a month, wear personal sneakers and shorts, purchase candy from
the commissary, and take three showers a week.
One of the more motivating aspects of PIMS is the possibility of a time cut. About
midpoint between arrival at Southport and maximum SHU release date, Level I and Level
II inmates are eligible to have their remaining SHU sentence cut by up to one-half. Level
III inmates can receive a two-thirds time cut.


By some measures, PIMS seems to be working. The majority of inmates have
advanced to Level II or Level III. The breakdown on the day we visited was as follows:
Progressive Inmate Movement System
Level I
Level II
Level III


“PIMS gives the inmates a light at the end of the tunnel,” Superintendent
McGinnis said. “Many of them come in here with years in the SHU and no way out. We
tell everyone that we’re giving them a fresh start.”
Interestingly, approximately “10% to 15% of the inmates have been to Southport
before,” the Superintendent stated in answer to our question about SHU recidivism.
Correction officers explained that most of the inmates on Level I never really leave—
they are continually returned to Level I after a brief stay at Level II or maybe even III, or
they might get transferred to general population at another prison but will end up back at
Southport for continued disruptive behavior. These men are the most troubled and
troublesome inmates of the prison system, known in the literature as the “chronically
disturbed and disruptive” prisoner.
Another problem is a rule—unique to Southport and imposed by the
Superintendent—that an inmate’s entire disciplinary record (not just his behavior at
Southport) can be taken into account by the Superintendent and review committee in
considering his advancement to the next level. Moreover, even if the inmate has been
approved, he can only advance “as space permits.” Both practices should be reevaluated.
Southport is staffed by 303 correction personnel and 114 professional and support
staff. All staff, security and civilian, have been trained in suicide prevention. All security
staff has received special SHU training.
We divided up and toured A, B and C blocks, interviewing approximately twenty
inmates on Levels I, II and III. We went as a group to D block, where the most “difficult”
inmates are housed.
The cells in A, B, and C block have open bars and inmates are permitted to speak
to each other, which is not the case in all SHUs. Many of the Level I inmates have thick
Plexiglas shields covering the bars of their cells. These inmates are known as “throwers,
spitters and slashers,” meaning that they throw bodily fluids. Prior to the visit, a CO
warned us to “wear raincoats.”


There was a distinct difference between the inmates on Level I and inmates on
Levels II and III. Level I inmates were loud, aggressive, angry and anguished. Some
appeared paranoid and delusional; one man said he wanted to kill himself. The
Superintendent quickly took down his name and cell number and had an OMH counselor
speak with him.
The first Level I inmate we spoke with said he had been at Southport for over two
years; prior to that he was at the SHU in Green Haven. “I’ve been in the SHU my whole
bid,” he said. He is twenty years old and sentenced to solitary confinement until the year
2010. He said he was sent to Southport for assaulting an officer. Despite the isolation, he
appeared mentally coherent and animated. The bars of his cell were covered with
Plexiglas. He said he is not on the OMH caseload and does not take any medications.
“But once they offered me thorazine,” he said.
For two months he has been on “the loaf,” inmate parlance for what the
Department calls a “restricted diet.” A restricted diet consists of a loaf of dense bread and
a side portion of raw cabbage, given to the inmate three times a day. Inmates who assault,
throw or, in some cases, simply threaten to throw bodily fluids are fed the loaf as
punishment. The prisoner said he has lost twenty pounds since being on the loaf. He
reported that he was put on a restricted diet because he told a correction officer he was
going to “throw something” on him. “The officer was endangering my life. I got a lot of
problems with the officers,” he said, then started shouting. “They are not going to break
me! I’m a strong individual. They can’t break me!” Other prisoners on the cellblock
joined in the shouting and banged on their bars.
When it quieted down, the inmate said he receives the reading material he is
permitted and rated access to medical care as “fine.” He reported that a correctional
counselor stops by once a week to speak with him briefly. When asked if he has felt
suicidal since being in the SHU, he repeated, “I am not weak! I’m a strong individual.
They’re not gonna break me!”
Another man, age 44, also on Level I with a cell shield over the bars, had been at
Southport for a month. He was previously in Attica and said he was sent to Southport for
refusing to take his psychotropic medication. Yet, he was not on the OMH caseload.
When asked what medication he refused to take, he said he didn’t remember. When asked
how long his SHU sentence was, he said, “I don’t know. I think about until 2003.” The
shield was put on his cell after he was charged with “throwing.” He said he was set up.
“They play funny games with you here. All of us have been set up. That’s how they fill
up the boxes.” The worst part of life at Southport, he said, is “all the bugs,” meaning the
inmates with mental illness who are housed on his tier. “They always put bugs near me,”
he said. “They yell and scream all day and night, and I can’t sleep.” He said he refuses to
go to recreation because “the COs play games with me. They put the handcuffs on real
tight. They stand around with their batons out and scream at you so it’s no recreation at
all.” When asked if he could produce a rulebook—all inmates are supposed to have a
facility rule book—he said he “threw it away because it was garbage. It’s all lies.”


The majority of inmates on Level II and III were calmer and more coherent than
those on Level I. Many said that the increased privileges, the opportunity to participate in
cell study and the promise of a time cut motivated them to change their behaviors.
Our gravest concerns were with the Level I inmates housed in the dark, chaotic Dblock. They are confined in dimly lit cells with poor ventilation and little natural light.
These men seem not to be able to move beyond this level. They progress briefly then act
out and are returned to Level I. Some have been deprived of recreation, showers and
materials with which to clean their cells. Most disturbing was the “upwards of twenty”
prisoners at Southport whom the Superintendent said have only the loaf to eat. We met
several men who have subsisted on this diet of bread and cabbage for days at a time,
some for several weeks. One Southport inmate has been on and off the loaf for over a
It was thus not surprising that many of the inmates on D-block yelled out
repeatedly and banged on their cell doors to get our attention. It was also not surprising,
but nonetheless appalling, that over a quarter of these PIMS Level I prisoners, who are
subjected to the harshest forms of punishment, are on the OMH caseload, having been
diagnosed as severely, seriously or persistently mentally ill.
It was clear to us—and to the correction officers we spoke with—that many of the
inmates on PIMS Level I are mentally ill, neurologically and/or cognitively impaired and
illiterate. They cannot control their behavior and are responded to by prison officials with
increasing deprivations. The result is that they descend deeper into the bowels of the
prison and become sicker in the process. The psychologist’s comment that “most of the
feces-throwers are not mentally ill” struck us as highly dubious. The assumption that
behaviors such as throwing and/or eating feces, spitting, self-mutilating, compulsively
masturbating and attacking correction officers will somehow be stopped or cured through
increased deprivation and relegation to D Block, where counseling consists of shouting
through thick metal doors, not only strains credibility but ignores the fact that there are a
number of men on Level I who have not been able to advance. “I will never get out,” an
inmate in D Block said.
In our letter to the Superintendent, copies of which we sent to the Commissioner
of the Department of Correctional Services and the Commissioner of the Office of
Mental Health, we recommended that this area of the prison be closed and that an outside
team of psychologists evaluate the disciplinary status, mental illness and histories of all
PIMS Level I inmates at Southport. We also recommended that these prisoners be
transferred to a more appropriate correctional facility or to a unit where they can receive
the intensive counseling they need.
Lunch with Cadre Inmates
We ate lunch in the mess hall with the cadre inmates, most of whom were
dissatisfied with their decision to accept a transfer to Southport. A number of the men
expressed frustration that working at Southport means little, if anything, to the parole


board. Many of the men assumed that their decision to leave a prison with programs and
more downtime for a work assignment at Southport would be considered favorably by the
parole board. Because many cadre workers have been denied parole, they believe no
longer believe this reward will be granted.
The most widely expressed request was to be able to participate in the selfadministered ASAT program available to Level III inmates. They reported that they need
some kind of program to keep them occupied after work. They also believe that the
parole board looks negatively upon prisoners who do not complete some kind of drug
treatment program.
Meeting with Program Staff
The program staff spoke enthusiastically about working with men in the cell study
program and helping them prepare for the GED. Over 500 inmates participate in cell
study. The Superintendent commented that the more the inmates work with the teachers,
the fewer misbehavior reports they receive.
The facility recently started a self-administered Alcohol and Substance Abuse
Treatment (ASAT) program for Level II and Level III inmates. The day after the program
was announced, over 150 inmates enrolled. Only three have dropped out. Clearly, there is
a need and strong desire among the inmates for substance abuse treatment and a
meaningful way to spend their time.
A major problem is that two counselor items have been vacant for almost half a
year. There are now only six teachers for over 500 inmates, which staff reported is an
unmanageable caseload.
Meeting with Medical Staff
The medical director reported that approximately 25 inmates are HIV-positive;
the majority are on HIV/AIDS medication. He and his staff “take the issue of compliance
very seriously,” he said, and attempt to ensure that inmates keep up with their medication
regimes. He reported that blood tests are done every three months and viral loads are
checked regularly. He estimated that approximately 40% of inmates infected with HIV
are co-infected with hepatitis C. Two inmates are on hepatitis C treatment.
The major problem, he reported, is insufficient staffing. A nursing item has been
vacant for “too long,” he said, and an additional nursing item is needed altogether. For 18
months, the physician’s assistant item has been vacant. The vacancies are placing a heavy
burden on the medical director and staff. They accurately noted that the nature of the
patients, the stress they are under and the challenges of providing medical care in a
locked-down facility, make the delivery of health care especially difficult at a facility
such as Southport.


Meeting with Mental Health Staff
We met with the two psychologists who work at Southport. They comprise the
entire mental health staff at the facility full time. A psychiatrist from Elmira spends one
day a week in the facility, seeing 5 to 8 patients, renewing or writing prescriptions. The
psychologists believe that the facility is sufficiently staffed. They reported that they make
rounds daily and see between 10 and 15 inmates per day. (A CO later told us that OMH
staff has only eight hours of “escort time” per week, meaning that they only have one CO
available to accompany the psychologists on rounds eight hours of the week.) They have
126 inmates on the caseload (about 20% of Southport’s population), 90 of whom are on
psychotropic meds, mostly anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medication.
Despite these figures, the psychologists dismissed the notion that inmates with
mental illness are over-represented at Southport, or that such restrictive and punitive
conditions affect a person’s mental state. Inmates who spit or throw bodily waste have
discipline problems, they said, not mental health problems. “The inmates with the biggest
behavioral problems (Level I inmates) are not mental health patients,” one of the
psychologists stated. Figures from a patient list dated 4/23/2001 suggest otherwise:

36 of the 100 PIMS Level I inmates (36%) are on the OMH caseload
93 of the 282 PIMS Level II inmates (33%) are on the OMH caseload
Only 7 of the 292 PIMS Level III inmates (2%) are on the OMH caseload

These figures indicate that inmates with mental illness are, in fact, overrepresented on the most restrictive disciplinary levels and thus subjected to the greatest
deprivations. The fact that only 7 of the 292 inmates at Level III are on the mental health
case load suggests that the inmates who are most able to advance are those who do not
suffer from mental illness.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with four correction officers—three men and one woman. They reported
that morale at the facility is low. They believe they are not supported by the union, the
administration or Central Office. Each had a story of being stabbed, spat at, assaulted, or
“thrown at.” One man had twice been put on prophylactic HIV medications after
exposure to blood.
When asked what they liked best about their jobs, they cited the people (fellow
correction officers), predictable work hours and ample vacation time. When asked about
the worst part of their jobs, one officer said: “Wearing shit.”
They reported that the work is “degrading” and “humiliating.” Many correction
officers take anti-depressants to cope with the stress and the depressing nature of their
work, they said. One of the most disturbing comments was that the state’s health
insurance is so insufficient and/or poorly administered that they cannot find health care


providers who accept their medical insurance. Several officers spoke of dentists,
radiologists and physicians who have “dropped” them because the state provides low
reimbursement rates, delays payments or does not cover procedures such as MRI’s.
They reported that the problem at Southport is that “a quarter of the inmates are
mentally ill and shouldn’t be here. All they [the administration] do is rotate them from
Level III to I. A lot of them can’t even make it to Level III.” All the officers said that they
know inmates who appear to have obvious signs of mental illness but are not on the
OMH caseload. This observation supported ours. We met more than a few inmates who
appeared clearly disturbed, anguished and/or paranoid who said they were not on the
OMH caseload. The officers also noted that “the administration heard you were coming
and moved the worst inmates [meaning the most mentally unstable ones] out.”
A conversation we had with a Southport correction officer after the visit raised
serious concerns about public safety. The officer said that some violent inmates
(“slashers”) whom the facility requires to be shackled during all out-of-cell movement,
will be escorted in handcuffs and waist chains on the day of their release right out the
front gate.
Meeting with Executive Team
We advocated for a number of changes, such as removing handcuffs while
inmates are in the recreation cages, giving them balls or chin-up bars or something to do
during recreation; ending the practice of restricted diets; and removing inmates with
mental illness from the facility. The Superintendent was not amenable to any of our
suggestions. He did say that he would consider allowing cadre inmates to participate in
the self-administered ASAT program.
All in all, it was a frustrating meeting and deeply unsettling visit. The conditions
we observed at Southport—specifically, the number of inmates with serious mental
illness who are not being treated, the conditions in D block, the overwhelmed medical
staff, the demoralized correction officers, the facility’s harsh regimen of punishments,
and the Superintendent’s glib dismissal of any of our findings or recommendations—left
us with the sense that Southport Correctional Facility represents the worst kind of prison:
an institution of total control with no external review.




n July 26, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Taconic Correctional
Facility, a medium-security prison for women in Westchester County. The
prison was under capacity the day of our visit, with 470 of 501 beds filled.
Approximately 150 beds are for general population inmates; the remainder serve women
in the Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT) program.
Superintendent Alexandreena Dixon explained that Taconic is the state’s only drug
treatment facility for women. It is designed as a therapeutic community where all aspects
of life are geared toward recovery. Some inmates with nonviolent charges serve six
months of their sentence at Taconic, followed by eighteen months at Phoenix House, a
residential drug treatment program in New York City.
Medical Clinic
We spent most of our time with the nurse administrator, who answered our
questions thoroughly. The nurse administrator has been at Taconic for a year and has
sixteen years with DOCS. She reported that the clinic is fully staffed with 8 full-time
nurses and 3 staff physicians. Only one of the physicians works full-time. The facility’s
medical director also works as a chiropractor in the community.
Approximately 35 percent of the inmates at Taconic are HIV-positive, she
reported, noting that they have “an excellent HIV nurse” who counsels the women on
lifestyle issues, protection, and medication compliance. There is a full-time psychologist
with approximately 100 women on his caseload for counseling and psychotropic
The nurse administrator explained in detail a quality assurance program she
developed to monitor quality of care. She assigns nurses to audit inmate medical charts
and has had audits done on every “disease entity.” She encourages inmates to write to her
if they have a problem, she said, and reported that medical grievances have dropped
substantially as a result. There is a full-time dentist and dental hygienist on staff.
The major problem of the unit is space. The sick-call area cannot adequately hold
the women awaiting medical attention.
Transitional Services Unit
The transitional services unit struck us as adequately designed to prepare exoffenders for reintegration. Inmates are assigned to the program a month before their
parole date. A problem is that if inmates are denied parole, they do not repeat the
program. Thus, they could be released more than a year after completing the program.
Five inmates work as transitional services clerks, one of whom speaks Spanish as
well as English. They expressed enthusiasm for the program and believe it is a great


service to the inmates. The curriculum includes employment preparation, substance abuse
issues, family and community preparation, and parole/probation and personal preparation.
The education supervisor said that when the women are in school they are
considered “students first and inmates second.” Teachers communicate with students’
counselors to monitor progress. Students are tested and placed into Adult Basic
Education (ABE), Pre-GED or GED. Women who score below the fifth grade level for
math or reading are placed into ABE; women who place between the fifth and eight grade
levels are placed in pre-GED. GED classes prepare the women to earn their GED, but
Taconic currently has no GED teacher.
The only vocational program at Taconic is a business class that focuses on
computer applications. There were eighteen computer terminals but a one-year waiting
list for admission into the program.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The ILC raised several issues, the first of which was verbal mistreatment from
correction officers. The women said they felt “constantly judged and belittled,” and that
COs take their “problems from home” out on them. They cited numerous problems with
the steady officer in the package room and the lengthy delays in receiving their packages.
They believe the officer steals items from their packages.
They reported a number of problems with visiting procedures: delays of up to
three hours for processing visitors; hostility and cursing at inmates’ family members,
including children and elderly relatives; and lack of a visiting waiting room. Visitors are
forced to wait outside, sometimes for two hours regardless of the weather, before they are
can enter the facility for processing.
In addition, the ILC said that when inmates are transferred to Taconic they are
idle for up to six months before they can enter CASAT. They said they are supposed to
begin CASAT 30 months before their parole board appearance, but they are rarely given
the opportunity to do so.
Comprehensive Alcohol Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT)
The program director struck us as enthusiastic and caring. He emphasized that he
and his staff are “advocates and cheerleaders” for the inmates, and that their job is “both
wonderful and difficult.” When asked what changes he would like to see, he cited
additional vocational programs, more materials in Spanish and after-care programs in the
community to help ex-offenders stay drug-free.


We observed several groups, where the topic of discussion was the challenge of
re-entry. The inmates appeared animated and engaged and seemed to have a good rapport
with the counselors.
We were told to visit “81 dorm” in the basement of a building, where women
waiting to enter CASAT are housed. The conditions were deplorable. Ceiling panels were
broken and rain streamed into the dorm. The women said that recently a bat flew in.
Forty-four bunk beds fill the dorm to overcrowding. The bunk beds pose problems for
elderly women, who must climb to the top regardless of their age or strength. (Only
obesity and severe medical conditions qualify one for a bottom bunk.)
Many of the women bemoaned the lack of privacy. Male correction officers
assigned to the dorm can enter at any time. The only area where the women can undress
in privacy is a small grimy bathroom with four narrow stalls.
By contrast, the housing area for the women in CASAT was among the best we
have seen in the state. Each cell had a large window, desk, bed, dresser and sink.
We then toured the nursery, where women live in single or double rooms with
their babies. The walls are painted light pink and blue. Each room has a bed for the
mother and crib for her baby. There were ten babies there the day of our visit, several of
whom were born in the prison.
Meeting with Executive Team
We expressed our favorable impressions of the drug treatment programs and staff,
the academic instructors, the transitional services unit, and the clinic operations and nurse
administrator, in particular.
We raised the problems we heard about the package room and the officer posted
there. The Superintendent responded that she was not aware of the problem. We
communicated the mistreatment of visitors and the lengthy delays in processing. The
Superintendent said she was unaware of these problems and reported that there are plans
to expand the processing area so visitors do not have to wait outside.
We discussed the dire need for a GED teacher. The Superintendent responded that
the position is only part-time and the pay is noncompetitive. She said she is trying to get
waivers from the Department for two GED positions and that a local literacy volunteer
group recently agreed to come to the prison.
We reported our impressions of the deplorable conditions of 81 dorm and the six
months of idleness inmates face as they await placement in CASAT. The delay in
placement is due to “Department policy,” she said, and reported that repair orders have
been issued to fix the ceiling panels.




n December 21, 1999, the Visiting Committee toured Ulster Correctional
Facility, a medium-security prison for men located in Napanoch, about a
two-hour drive from New York City. Ulster is a reception and classification center, where
inmates stay for approximately two weeks before they are transferred to their designated
facility. Opened in October 1990, Ulster is a modern, low-lying prison with an average
daily population of 830 inmates.
Since Superintendent Anthony Capuano arrived at Ulster a week before our visit
and was still learning the ropes, former Superintendent James Walsh was on hand to
answer questions. The mission of Ulster, he said, is to appropriately “place and prepare
inmates for the system.”
We visited the dormitory of the approximately 90 inmates who comprise the cadre
and work on the prison grounds. Cadre work at Ulster is a desirable assignment, the
inmates said, because of the prison’s proximity to New York City. To be in the cadre,
inmates must have a clean bill of health and a low-security classification.
The walls of the dorm were decorated with uplifting messages: “Commit a
random act of kindness…Attitude makes the difference.” The men seemed content with
conditions at Ulster. They reported that the COs treat them respectfully and were quick to
name several who they considered particularly professional or good-natured. When asked
about race relations between the virtually all white correction staff and the largely black
and Hispanic inmate population, a cadre member said that racism was not an issue at
Ulster as it is in most other prisons. “It’s too small of a community to walk around with a
chip on your shoulder,” he said.
Cadre inmates said they would like (and need if they are to satisfy the parole
board) programs such as Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT) and
Aggression Replacement Training (ART). They noted that ART already exists at the
facility but is given only to reception inmates. They didn’t think it would be too much
trouble for the facility to run an ART program for them. Essentially, they feel they work
hard to keep the prison clean and functioning smoothly, but they are not given the
programs they need to be paroled.
We then visited the dorm for reception inmates, who were not as positive as the
cadre inmates. Their chief complaint was the time it takes for funds to arrive in their
commissary account. By the time the facility processes the check or money order sent
from the outside, the inmate has already been transferred.
The reception inmates wanted deodorant and slippers to wear in the showers.
They are given only a comb and toothbrush.


Aggression Replacement Training
We attended an Aggression Replacement Training (ART) session led by an
inmate facilitator, who told the new inmates that he’d taught ART for three years and was
a first-time felon. A dynamic and skilled public speaker, he encouraged the men to
participate in the full eight-week program at their designated prisons so they can learn to
“control their anger” and “develop moral reasoning.” He observed that some of the men
were probably feeling afraid; a few of them acknowledged that they were. “Be careful,”
he said. “Fear can make a person act aggressively. To change the way we live, we have to
change the way we think.”
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
We met with the three executive members of the cadre ILC, who reiterated the
sentiments we heard in the dorm, namely that Ulster is a “special” prison with good
communication between inmates and COs. They mentioned that it is also unique in that
there are no gang members or gang problems. They did, however, report: “If you bring up
a serious issue, you’ll get transferred.” Because they fear being sent upstate, inmates
generally keep a low profile.
Their spontaneous and positive comments about medical care took us by surprise.
It is rare that complaints about health care do not dominate ILC meetings. After signing
up for a sick call, inmates are seen by a doctor the next day, they said. Their one
complaint was lack of confidentiality. Inmates can overhear doctor-patient conversations,
and their names and reason for seeking medical attention appear on the sick-call sign-up
With regard to inmate-staff relations, their major concern was the camaraderie
between COs and sergeants, and sergeants’ lack of objectivity when it comes to
investigating inmate grievances. “There are too many buddies here,” one man observed.
They pointed out that there are no high-ranking black or Latino officers, and the few
female officers are closely tied to the “good-old-boy” culture. Officers who work the 7
a.m. to 3 p.m. shift are “more businesslike,” they said. The 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. officers “try
to act like they’re wardens.”
Meeting with Correction Officers
The officers we met with were forthcoming and voiced a number of complaints,
particularly about low compensation. They reported that they are compensated
“thousands of dollars below” New York City correction officers (which is true) and even
COs in other states. They said the hazards of the job are not worth the paltry pay rate.
They gave examples of two COs who were exposed to TB because new inmates are not
medically screened until four or five hours after they arrive. During that time, they have
contact with many staff members, which is not the case at Downstate, the maximumsecurity processing facility, where inmates are screened immediately. “We have been


exposed to TB, scabies and chicken pox,” they said, and only learn of their exposure to
infected inmates—via a pink slip from the medical staff—days after the encounter.
They discussed the health risks involved with overseeing inmate showers. The CO
assigned to that post is exposed, for six hours a day, to the toxic substances in RID, the
delousing shampoo the Department requires inmates to use. Prolonged exposure irritates
their sinuses and gives them headaches.
They also cited inadequate staffing. Despite the increased number of inmates
processed at Ulster, staffing has not increased accordingly. Staffing in the yard is “totally
inadequate,” they said. Apparently, approximately 250 inmates congregate in the yard
during the summer with only four COs to oversee them. The yard posts, they added, have
no shelter. They are situated on a blacktop mound that attracts the sun in the summer and
offers no protection from the cold in the winter. A CO reported that she had to use the
inmate bathroom to get warm when she worked in the yard. Another officer commented,
“These are inhumane conditions.”
When asked about the upsides of their jobs, they laughed. “I guess one good thing
about this place is that inmates don’t have time to form gangs.” There is also little
contraband. “Inmates come in with nothing, they get nothing, and they leave with
nothing.” Moreover, the inmates are all medium-security status. “Minimum and medium
inmates are more mouthy than physical,” they said.
We asked what adjectives they would use to describe the inmate population.
“Arrogant,” “immature,” “belligerent,” and “pitiful” were cited. According to one CO,
“It’s pitiful to see these young guys coming in. The older inmates fear the young, crazy
ones. Violence is their only way. They challenge our authority every day.” They also
noted that “officers will go out of their way to not hurt the inmate.” The alternative is
talking with inmates to resolve conflict.
They strongly advocated more training, particularly in the areas of report writing
and communication skills. Regarding the diversity training they received at the Academy,
they described it as “nothing at all.” One CO said he would like training on the
“sociological aspects of inmate behavior” and their “cultures and religions.” He said that
he had stepped on an inmate’s prayer rug not realizing the rug was a religious artifact.
Meeting with Executive Team
Superintendent Capuano began the meeting by noting that he was “very
interested” in our feedback. He took out a pen and paper and took notes throughout the
discussion. We reported that the majority of complaints we received came from the
officers versus the inmates. In response to the officers’ concern about the four-hour wait
before inmates are medically screened, the Superintendent said that a new processing
building is being constructed, which should speed up the screening process. We asked if
he would consider providing some sort of shelter station for COs in the yard, and he
seemed open to the idea. Finally, he mentioned that he was aware of the lack of programs


for cadre inmates and was looking into providing them with the full eight-week ART




n January 17, 2001, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Upstate
Correctional Facility in Malone, approximately 20 miles south of the
Canadian border. Opened in the summer of 1999, Upstate is New York’s 70th prison and
the third prison constructed in the town of Malone (pop. 14,297), where inmates now
comprise more than one-third of the town’s population. Upstate is also New York’s
newest and largest supermax, housing 1,500 male inmates: 300 cadre inmates who work
in the prison messhall, laundry and other areas, and 1,200 inmates in four Special
Housing Unit cell blocks who were transferred to Upstate for violating prison rules. The
three most common violations that land prisoners in Upstate are drug use, weapon
possession and assaultive behavior, the Superintendent reported.
Before the visit, we had received numerous complaints from inmates, their family
members and attorneys about correction officer abuse, inadequate food portions, three
inmate deaths that occurred in the 18 months since the facility opened, and poor medical
care. Additional concerns were raised about inmate safety. Similar to the nine SHU-200s
(freestanding disciplinary confinement units for 200 inmates) that have been built since
1998, Upstate confines its inmates in double cells. Pairs of men are locked together 24
hours a day in cells measuring 105 square feet. There is no outside programming or
activity save for one hour of recreation in an empty outdoor cage attached to the back of
the cell. The isolated nature of confinement (cells are sealed by thick metal doors rather
than bars) combined with idleness and some inmates’ histories of violence and/or mental
illness raise a host of concerns.
From the outside, Upstate resembles the state’s other supermaxes—a modern,
high-tech control unit. Hidden in a strip of forest on a hill above the town, Upstate abuts
two medium-security prisons, Bare Hill and Franklin Correctional Facilities. “Besides
addressing the Department’s need for more maximum-security space,” reports an article
in DOCS Today, “Upstate provides a substantial economic boost for the North Country.”
In all, the new prison generated 422 new jobs and an annual payroll of almost $13
million. “I’d hate to think of where we’d be as a community without the prisons,” said the
vice president of Malone’s Marine Midland Bank in DOCS Today. “It’s frightening to
think what the economy around here would be like were it not for the two prisons we
now have, and the new one that we’re getting.” Construction costs alone totaled
approximately $125 million.
The prison was under capacity the day of our visit, with 125 disciplinary housing
beds vacant.
Superintendent Thomas Ricks reported that Upstate received American
Correctional Association accreditation in June 2000. He added that “this is the first time
the population has been down.” All staff positions—except for a pharmacist and dental
hygienist—were filled. These vacancies, we were told, will likely not be filled due to
noncompetitive state salaries. (In fact, 40% of pharmacist positions throughout the New


York State prison system are vacant, according to Dr. Lester Wright, Associate
Commissioner of Health Services.) Like other prisons with no pharmacist on staff,
Upstate must contract out services. Prison administrators have pointed out that the cost of
contracting out pharmacist services far exceeds the cost of increasing the annual pay rates
of staff.
We asked about the most common charges of Upstate inmates. “Most of the
inmates are here for dirty urines. A lot of them have histories of violent behavior.”
Regarding the three inmate deaths, the Superintendent reported that one inmate
died of natural causes. “He came in here very sick and died in custody,” he said. Another
death was a suicide (“The inmate hanged himself with his shoelaces”), and the third was
“a homicide.” The inmate was killed by his cellmate. According to Superintendent Ricks,
no weapon was involved; the inmate killed by hand. The men had been cellmates “for a
while and seemed to get along fine.” The fight broke out in the middle of the night when
one inmate wanted the cell light off.
We asked for copies of the death reports, and the Superintendent said we would
have to obtain them from the State Commission on Correction. Committee members
asked about the presence of officers on the cellblocks. According to the Superintendent,
officers are required to make rounds every ½ hour. (Whether this actually happens during
the middle of the night, or whether it is sufficient given the number of inmates with
violent backgrounds and mental illness, is questionable.) The Superintendent confirmed
that “there have been several fights” between cellmates; officers deal with such situations
“by getting down there as soon as possible.”
Surveillance cameras, 800 in total, line the corridors and most areas of the prison,
except for the infirmary. Footage is stored for 14 days unless required for an
investigation. Before the visit, we received anecdotal reports from attorneys, inmates and
family members that inmates are “beaten down” in the infirmary where movement is not
recorded and, for this reason, some inmates are reluctant to seek out medical care.
According to the administration, inmate grievances have dropped substantially
over the past year, from 600 to 200. The most common grievances are “Code 49s,”
allegations of staff misconduct.
Like the SHU-200s, Upstate uses a “behavior modification” system known as
“PIMS,” for Progressive Inmate Movement System. All inmates enter on Level I, the
most restrictive status, and can progress to Level III, the least restrictive status. Level I
inmates wear leg irons during all out of cell movement, and handcuffs attached to waist
chains during visits (family and legal). Earphones and commissary privileges are
prohibited. Stamps—up to 50 a month—are the only items they can purchase. Indigent
inmates receive one free stamp per month.
Upon completion of half their SHU time, Level I inmates are reviewed by a
Disciplinary Review Committee, which may recommend to the Superintendent that up to
one third of the inmate’s remaining SHU time be cut. The minimum criterion for

movement to Level II is 30 days of good behavior since the original misbehavior report
was filed. Final decision on movement to Level II is at the discretion of the Disciplinary
Review Committee. However, as stated in the inmate manual, Level I inmates who are
eligible for progression cannot progress to Level II until beds become available.
At Level II, inmates who do not have a high school diploma or GED can enroll in
a cell study program, where a teacher delivers books, assigns homework and provides
written feedback. Restraints are removed during visits. Cellmates receive a deck of cards.
At Level III, which requires no disciplinary tickets during Level II, inmates get an
additional shower (for a total of four a week), one pair of sneakers, permission to wear
personal shorts, and an additional ½ hour of recreation per day.
Regardless of the level, the only personal property inmates can have in their cells
is: various religious items, a plain wedding band, personal legal materials, up to 10
photographs, one address book, toothpaste, up to 10 books, magazines or newspapers, a
calendar, stamps, and up to 20 pieces of personal mail. No personal packages with the
exception of books, magazines and legal materials can be received. No phone calls are
allowed unless approved by the Superintendent.
PIMS appears to work well in the sense that the Disciplinary Review Committee
meets regularly, the vast majority of inmates make it to (and are currently on) Level III,
and time-cuts are frequently given. “Some inmates come in with 90 days’ SHU time and
are out in a month,” the Superintendent said. He gave us a print-out of the number of
inmates on each level: Level I—151 inmates; Level II—163 inmates; Level III—761
A disturbing figure is the number of inmates who “max out” (finish their prison
sentence) at Upstate and are released directly into the community with no acclimation to
a more normal way of life. After several months (or years) of sensory deprivation in
disciplinary housing with little social interaction and limited opportunities to make
decisions and choices, the men are suddenly released to the community. In December,
fifteen inmates maxed out at Upstate, an unusually high figure according to the
Superintendent. Normally, he said, three to four inmates are released each month.
Committee members branched out and interviewed inmates in each of the four
cellblocks and on all PIMS levels. Interviews lasted 10 to 20 minutes and were conducted
through the food slot in the door (visitors opened the hatch and knelt so that they could
see the inmate while speaking with him) or spoke through a small perforated section of
the door as the officers and staff do.
Interviews with approximately 90 inmates revealed a mixed picture. Some
inmates expressed surprisingly few complaints about conditions of confinement,
treatment from correction officers or being double celled. A number of inmates reported


that they preferred having a cellmate rather than bunking alone. (It should be noted,
however, that prisoners’ cellmates were within earshot during interviews, which may
have skewed responses.) Generally, inmates seemed well matched. Men of similar age,
ethnicity, body size and religious interests tended to be housed together. “The one good
thing about this place is they accommodate your cellmate requests,” one man said.
Several inmates singled out particular correction officers whom they considered
professional and responsive. Some inmates described the administration team as fair.
Other prisoners presented a very different picture. They spoke with great bitterness
about the following:


Small portions of food;
Ignored medical complaints;
Harassment from correction officers (including racial comments);
“Beat downs” in the infirmary;
Disrespect for personal property during cell searches, i.e. stepping on photographs
or “breaking things”);
COs issuing misbehavior tickets and adding SHU time for such minor infractions
as sleeping through a sick call appointment (announcements are made over a
loudspeaker that medical personnel are beginning their rounds; inmates must be
dressed and standing at the door in order to speak with a nurse);
Hostile manner and general unresponsiveness by the officer in the State Shop. (It
was reported that the officer issues clothing in the wrong sizes and ignores
repeated requests for exchanges;
COs ignoring grievances and retaliating against inmates for filing them. One
inmate, for example, reported that a CO held up a sign that said “nigger” on the
window of his cell after the inmate filed a grievance; and
Overzealous use of chemical agents (tear gas) during cell extractions.

A good number of inmates confirmed the Superintendent’s statement that most of
them are at Upstate for drug use, or “dirty urines” as they’re known. The second most
common charge appeared to be assault. Many inmates said they had been to other SHUS,
or to Upstate before, which raises questions about the effectiveness of SHU punishment
to deter repeat offending. Moreover, the prevalence of inmates with substance abuse
problems suggests that Upstate should have been designed as a treatment facility rather
than a supermax prison.
One man, a self-reported drug addict serving a life sentence, said an assault
charge at Wende brought him to Upstate a year ago. After finishing his SHU time he
returned to Wende, where he used drugs and was sentenced to four months back at
His cellmate, a “lifer” whose younger brother was at Upstate as well, said he has
had a drug problem for 15 years. “I’ve done three state bids for drugs,” he said, and has
been sent to four different SHUs. He is currently serving five years’ SHU time for drugs.
Somehow—despite frequent cell searches, post-visit strip searches and the high level of


security—he said he bought heroin from his last cellmate. Because he is serving a life
sentence, he has not been offered substance abuse treatment. Aside from a few residential
treatment programs for a limited number of inmates known as RSAT (Residential
Substance Abuse Treatment), 12-step meetings run by community volunteers are the only
form of substance abuse “treatment” available in maximum-security prisons.
The two inmates in the next cell were also at Upstate for drug use. “I’m here for
twenty dollars and a couple bags of dope,” one man said. He was serving an 18-years-tolife sentence at Green Haven and was given 15 months at Upstate for drug possession.
“I’ve had a habit for 35 years,” he said. He spoke at length about spending the rest of his
life in prison and how drugs help him cope with the hopelessness. His complaints about
Upstate were mainly with medical care. “I came here with serious medical ailments,” he
said. “I’ve been here since October…I filed 47 requests to see the doctor and still haven’t
seen anybody.”
Lunch with Cadre Inmates
Overall, the cadre inmates (about a third of whom are classified as protective
custody) were dissatisfied with conditions at Upstate. Some felt they were coerced into
going to Upstate with promises of a high-paying job and a transfer within a year. “They
pulled a bait and switch,” one inmate said. Apparently, the only high-paying job is in
food service, where there are 100 positions for 300 inmates. The others are assigned to
the laundry, law library, or maintenance, at a pay rate of 15 cents per hour, or about $10
every two weeks.
They gave the ASAT program high marks but reported the program hasn’t been
running for the past three weeks because the counselor quit. Echoing the SHU inmates,
they described medical care as poor. “If you get sick in here, it’s bad news.” They have
an ILC that meets “every two or three months” with the executive staff.
Medical Clinic
A committee member who is a physician at a hospital in New York City and a
formerly a physician with DOCS, spent an hour with the medical director, touring the
infirmary, reviewing inmate charts and speaking with nurses in the clinics located on
each cellblock. The committee member was impressed with the health services director,
who is board-certified, trained in surgery and new to correctional health care. Similar to
many DOCS physicians, she has a part-time practice in the community.
The infirmary—with eight beds and four negative pressure rooms—was clean,
spacious and well equipped. Telemedicine connecting Upstate physicians to doctors at
Albany Medical Center is used regularly, saving time and the security costs of
transporting high-risk inmates, and enhancing the level of care. Inmates with chronic
conditions (HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, asthma, diabetes) appeared to be monitored regularly
and treated appropriately; an HIV specialist visits regularly to monitor treatment and
medication compliance and consult with medical staff.


Each cellblock has its own clinic with full-day coverage by two nurses. Sick call
logs and medical records appeared up-to-date and sufficiently informative. The nurse
administrator said that approximately 15 inmates per cellblock (60 out of 1,200 inmates)
have hepatitis C. She was unsure how many received treatment, but said that the
Department makes the newest hepatitis C medication available for those inmates who are
deemed in serious enough condition to warrant treatment.
Mental Health Services
A committee member with a background in mental health services interviewed
the head psychologist, an employee of the New York State Office of Mental Health with
28 years on the job. She reported that 120 inmates there (about 10% of the population)
have been diagnosed as seriously or persistently mentally ill and are on the mental health
caseload for counseling and/or psychotropic medication. Of the 120, 110 receive
medication. The majority of inmates at Upstate are classified by OMH as Level 2 or
Level 3, meaning that they have a mental illness but they’re stable. Occasionally,
however, a Level I inmate with a serious mental illness is admitted, or an inmate
diagnosed as Level 2 decompensates and becomes a Level 1, which Upstate is not
equipped to handle.
Approximately two to three inmates a week have to be transferred to the OMH
Satellite Unit at Clinton Correctional Facility, about an hour away, for more intensive
care. After they’re stabilized, the psychologist said, “most of them get sent back here” to
finish their sentence in disciplinary lockdown—an illogical and inhumane practice that
occurs throughout the prison system and which places many mentally ill inmates in an
endless cycle of disciplinary lockdown, mental deterioration, transfer, stabilization, and
transfer back to disciplinary housing where the cycle begins again.
The most common mental illnesses are affective disorder, antisocial personality
disorder and major depression. Most psychotropic medications are now dispensed in
liquid form (in paper cups), we were told, to prevent hoarding, overdoses, or sharing with
Staff is comprised of one full-time OMH psychologist, one full-time DOCS
psychologist, 14 hours (total) of two different psychiatrists’ time, and two full-time social
workers. Given the high number of inmates on psychotropic meds, the unit urgently
needs another full-time psychiatrist. In addition to the “five to fifteen” requests for
counseling they receive each day, the staff makes daily rounds of cellblocks and conducts
monthly one-on-one interviews with inmates on the OMH caseload. Correction officers,
however, are not consistently available to provide security, and thus out-of-cell
counseling sessions are often cancelled.
There is no discharge planner. Currently, discharge planning is the bare
minimum: staff fills out applications for social security cards so departing inmates have
identification. They also receive a two-week supply of meds.


The observation cells were among the most spacious, well-lit and clean we have
seen. We were struck, however, that inmates in these cells are stripped to their
underwear, denied any clothing, reading material or even a blanket. (In other observation
cells we’ve seen, inmates are permitted to either wear clothing or have a blanket.) They
have only a thin, rough mattress pad with which to cover themselves; the pad is so small
that it barely covers a man of average build. We asked whether blankets could be made
available, as we have seen in observation cells in some state prisons, but the psychologist
said that in her experience blankets present too many risks for suicide. This view seemed
unfounded: A correction officer sits directly outside of the cell 24 hours a day with an
unobstructed view of the inmate. Even during breaks, the Superintendent said, the post is
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with five correction officers, one woman and four men with 7, 13, 20, 11
and “11 years, 2 months and 17 days” on the job, respectively. “I count every day,” the
fifth CO said. The female officer said she entered corrections because she wanted to be in
law enforcement; one of her relatives worked for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. All of
the men cited the job security and benefits as their reason for joining DOCS. One officer
previously worked in the sheriff’s department and said that if he had stayed in school, he
would not have become a CO. He takes advantage of whatever DOCS training
opportunities he can, he said, and has a special interest in weapons and chemical agents.
“It was here or McCadam Cheese,” another officer said, referring to the local
cheese factory, which he perceived as his only other job option besides the prison. All of
them were from Malone and had “worked their way [through the system] home.” One
CO said that his niece works at Upstate and his nephew is a CO at nearby Franklin. “Plus
I have half a dozen cousins who work here in this facility.”
They expressed general satisfaction with their jobs, their relationship with the
administration, and their compensation. “I make as much money as my friends who are
teachers,” one officer said. “With 20 years in the system, I make good money for this
area,” said another. The officer who worked in the sheriff’s department and who now
does training for DOCS in chemical agents and weapons use, said: “The money’s
good…I mean, where else do you get paid to shoot all day?” referring to his work on the
shooting range.
We asked why they chose to work at Upstate, a 23-hour lockdown, facility rather
than Bare Hill or Franklin Correctional Facilities, also in Malone, and they all cited the
consistency, efficiency and greater safety of working in a supermax prison where there is
little inmate contact or movement. “I prefer a max over a medium because everything’s
cut and dry. The inmates are more settled,” said the female CO. “And they feel safer here,
too,” she added. The other officers agreed with her. They said that inmates tell them they
would rather be locked down for 23 hours than have to contend with the chaos of a
medium-security prison. “This is a stable environment,” a male officer said. “In mediums


there’s a much greater potential for violence and extortion. They don’t want to be in a
yard with 300 other inmates who take their money, threaten their family, etc.” The female
officer said she knew of an inmate who assaulted an officer so he could stay at Upstate.
They prefer having cameras because it protects them from false allegations from
inmates, they said. “Between all the training we get and the cameras, you can’t just beat
an inmate and throw him back in his cell,” a male officer observed. They expressed a
need for more training in interpersonal communication skills and dealing with inmates
with psychiatric disorders.
We asked about job frustrations and, unlike other COs we have interviewed, they
seemed to have trouble answering the question, either because they didn’t have many
complaints or because they were reluctant to share them with us. Finally, the female
officer said: “What’s hard is when you see inmates here who are trying to better
themselves, and then their friends or family members bring in drugs….” (Another officer
pointed out that visitors aren’t strip-searched and sometimes bring in drugs.) A male
officer complained about “catching diseases” from inmates and said he knows an officer
who was recently diagnosed with hepatitis C. “We’re exposed to hep C, TB, AIDS, you
name it,” he said. The other officers agreed that there is widespread concern among COs
that they can contract infectious diseases from inmates.
We asked what words came to mind in depicting the inmate population, and again
they seemed reluctant to answer. “I can’t think of anything at the moment,” one officer
said. “I’d say they’re either tolerable, or intolerable,” said another. “In my opinion they
need a little bit of guidance.”
Meeting with Executive Team
We presented our favorable impressions of the medical director, nurses and health
care services in general but noted that many inmates gave very critical accounts of
medical services, particularly the practice of denying medical attention to inmates who
fail to be standing at the door when the nurses make their rounds. The Superintendent
reiterated that medical grievances had dropped substantially over the past year. He made
note of the inmate cases we brought to his attention and agreed to follow up on them.
In response to the prevalence of inmates with serious mental illness and the need
for an additional full-time psychiatrist, the Superintendent agreed that the situation is
problematic but not within his power to change. As for blankets for inmates in the
observation cells, he deferred to the opinion of the unit psychologist and said he would
rather err on the conservative side than risk a suicide.
We left with the impression that Upstate is little more than a warehouse, an eerily
efficient way station where inmates with drug problems, behavioral problems and/or
mental disorders serve their time and return to general population or society with the
same problems they had upon entering Upstate, and in some cases more.




n September 21, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Washington
Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison for men in Washington
County, approximately 15 miles northeast of Glens Falls. The main prison complex,
opened in 1985, comprises 75 acres and clusters of low-lying brick buildings surrounded
by a razor ribbon fence.
We met first with the executive team; they greeted us warmly and provided each
member with a professionally printed brochure about the prison and data we had
requested prior to the visit. They came across as proud of their facility and pleased to
have the opportunity to speak about it.
Superintendent Israel Rivera came to Washington in December 1997 and is the
supervising Superintendent of the Great Meadow Hub. He reported that approximately
half of the prison’s 1,086 male inmates are between the ages of 16 and 21, which
qualifies the prison to receive federal funding for educational and vocational programs.
The prison is fully programmed; not surprisingly, the number of grievances is low.
Superintendent Rivera reported that grievances dropped from 140 in 1997 to just 74 in
1999. Inmates are encouraged to use what is called the “non-calendared” grievance
procedure, whereby they raise concerns with grievance officers before logging formal
complaints. Facilitating communication between staff and inmates, the Superintendent
said, goes a long way in reducing tension.
Also helpful is the Community Lifestyles Program, a facility-wide initiative
designed to impart accountability, problem solving and teamwork. Each dorm, for
example, is evaluated weekly on cleanliness and behavioral infractions incurred by
inmates. The Superintendent showed us tabulated charts of dorm ratings and said that
dorms will compete for higher ratings. Finally, the Superintendent said that the weeklong
orientation gives inmates a thorough understanding of the prison’s mission, the
importance of program participation, and the consequences of assault/weapons charges.
“We remind them that the state has 3,000 new disciplinary confinement beds built for
problem inmates,” he said, and that Washington is a safe and easy prison but only if rules
are followed and violence isn’t tolerated. The average length of stay is 11 to 13 months.
Transitional Services Unit
We visited the Transitional Services Unit, where the sign on the office door says:
“Stop being an inmate. You weren’t born one.” The program supervisor seemed
genuinely committed to helping inmates leave with better skills and resources. He
showed us a set of binders he assembled on apprenticeships and training opportunities for
inmates looking to work as cooks, electricians, die makers, mechanics and welders upon
release. He schedules appointments for inmates at their local Department of Labor office
before they leave and was well versed in the $2,600 Work Opportunity Tax Credit
(WOTC) for employers who hire ex-inmates. He said the state sometimes arranges for


bonds for employers who hire ex-offenders. “Only about 1% of bonded ex-inmates
commit a crime against their employer,” he said.
He encourages inmates to enroll in community college when they leave and
showed us catalogs on colleges throughout New York and out of state. He gives
departing inmates information on community-based drug and alcohol programs, civil
service exams and selective service opportunities. The staff also helps them with resume
writing and interview strategies.
The prison brochure states that “each student will receive training consisting of a
mix of hands-on experience and trade-related theory…” Indeed, the range of programs is
impressive—from air condition and refrigeration, building maintenance, electrical trades,
home electronic repair and computer refurbishing, to floor covering, general business,
horticulture/agriculture, custodial maintenance, small engine repair and welding.
Academic programs include Adult Basic Education, High School Equivalency to
prepare for the GED test, and Bilingual classes with individualized instruction in Spanish
and English. High school graduation ceremonies are held three times a year for students
who earn their GED.
Two hundred inmates have outside clearance to work on a farm, make repairs on
the Champlain Canal, provide firewood to elderly residents and serve as groundskeepers
for Washington and neighboring Great Meadow prison. A Corcraft factory employs 30
inmates in a metal furniture shop.
Finally, Washington has an Alternatives to Violence program, a Mentoring and
Nurturing (MAN) program, and an array of recreation and sports activities, including
leagues in football, soccer, basketball and softball. Once a year the prisoners compete in
power lifting contest against other inmates from other facilities throughout the state. With
so many programs, it is easy to see why tension and grievances are low.
Medical Clinic
We toured the clinic, a clean, modern and airy facility. Since the medical director
was out, the nurse administrator gave us a tour and spent a good hour answering our
She reported that nurses screen approximately 72 inmates per day for sick call and
that staff physicians perform about 35 medical examinations. However, with only one
full-time and one part-time physician and frequent nursing shortages, they are
inadequately staffed and desperately need budget lines for another full-time doctor and
either a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to dispense medication, do suturing and
perform procedures beyond basic screening. As in most prison clinics, attracting nursing
staff is extremely difficult given the noncompetitive state pay. The nurse administrator
said she makes use of a Vital Life Signs Monitor (VLMS)—the first we have seen in a


prison clinic—to help speed up sick call screening. (The Department recently made
VLSM’s available to clinics throughout the system.)
In addition, the medical staff oversees in excess of 5,000 DOT’s (directly
observed therapy—dispensing medication to inmates in the presence of medical
personnel) each month. Approximately 200 inmates are on psychotropic medication—“it
helps them sleep better at night,” a nurse commented. About 20 inmates receive
preventive medication for TB, though no inmates have active TB; 25 to 30 inmates are
HIV+ and receive antiretroviral medication; 52 inmates have tested positive for Hepatitis
C, of whom “only several” are on treatment. Departing inmates are given a two-week
supply of medication and a one-month prescription. All of the nurses have been trained in
HIV/AIDS and are CPR-certified.
Washington also has a pharmacy, dental unit and optometry section. DOCS
closed the infirmary at Washington (and at eight other state prisons) in 1999 to cut costs.
Inmates who require in-patient care are sent to nearby Great Meadow prison, a practice
that the nurse administrator and Superintendent said has not created a problem. The
majority of inmates are under 21 and in good health; those who do need in-patient care
are serviced by the Great Meadow clinic in a timely manner. The former infirmary is now
used as a patient education room, where inmates watch videos on wellness and healthy
living habits.
As we have observed in other prisons, the dental unit lacks a dental hygienist. The
Department is phasing out this position, a nurse said, due to noncompetitive pay rates and
the short length of inmate stays. Inmates are apparently told at orientation that they
should not expect to have their teeth cleaned while they are at Washington.
Alcohol Substance Abuse (ASAT) Dormitory
We visited the residential ASAT program, a therapeutic community designed “to
foster recovery and implement responsible behavior.” The program runs in six-month
cycles, providing 330 hours of treatment for all inmates who earn an ASAT certificate.
Approximately 85% of participants graduate. The waiting list was over 260 men.
A “community meeting” had just started when we entered; approximately 50
inmates filled the room. The men opened with an enthusiastic round of applause and
welcomed new members. The civilian facilitator turned the meeting over to an inmate
presenter, who discussed “regressions” and asked if anyone had a regression to share.
One man said he’d lost his temper when another inmate left his clothes in the dryer. He
said he’s working on his patience. The presenter asked the group for “progresses,” and
many hands went up. Some told about the progresses of other inmates—a man who
recently earned his GED, another who decided to make his anger problem a priority. The
men applauded each other after each progress was announced; their support for each
other was palpable.


We spoke with several inmates after it was over, and they made uniformly
positive comments. “We’re a family here, a team,” one said. “We help each other deal
with our hopes, fears and dreams.” Correction officers play an important role in the
program, a Deputy Superintendent said, and an inmate confirmed that COs serve more in
the capacity of counselors and coaches “than cops.” The COs “always make time for
me,” one man reported. “They never say, ‘I’ll see you next time’ and keep going.”
General Population Dormitory
The dorm we visited was calm and clean. We spent about 30 minutes speaking
with small groups of inmates. Some complained about being treated “like children” and
about rules that they considered petty, such as being required to tuck their shirts into their
pants. Overall, they described Washington as a calm and safe facility with few problems.
While some COs are known to “retaliate for a friend” (e.g. if an inmate files a grievance
or staff misconduct form against an officer, his friends will hassle the inmate), they
acknowledged a lack of violence.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
The ILC began by noting that Washington is generally a well-run prison with
ample programs and fair, approachable correction staff. Their concerns were as follows:


There is no dental hygienist and they can’t get their teeth cleaned;
There aren’t enough staff physicians to provide medical care when needed.
“There’s only one doctor for over a thousand inmates,” one man said. Another
inmate, who was on crutches, said his artificial leg had been broken for 75 days
despite repeated requests to have it replaced.
Visiting policies are too restrictive. Inmates said they couldn’t receive a visitor if
the person hadn’t visited in the past 60 days. Of five recently scheduled family
events, they said, four had been cancelled.
Memos from the administration are not consistently available in English and
Packages are often delayed.

Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with two male officers, with 15 and 16 years on the job, and two females,
with 18 and 21 years on the job.
The group reported liking their jobs at Washington because “the caliber of inmate
is different. They’re not looking for trouble—they’re looking for parole.” Another said he
enjoyed being part of a “family throughout the state.” Regarding coworkers, one officer
noted, “We may not always get along, but we can always depend on each other.” They
described the security staff at the prison as “a big family. Everyone pretty much knows
everybody else.”


Among their dislikes about the job, they cited risk of contracting diseases from
inmates. “It scares me to think what I’m bringing home to my children,” a male officer
commented. Unlike correction officers at downstate prisons, they didn’t complain about
salary. The cost of living in rural New York is moderate, they said. “Do we make bad
money? No. Could it be more? Yeah.” One officer said he would like to see the state
defray the cost of college for the children of state employees.
They felt that the prison needed more security on the 11 p.m.-to-7 a.m. shift. In
1997, they said, the facility cut the “rover” positions responsible for checking on the
officers posted in dorms. One rover used to be responsible for the COs in two dorms;
now there is only one rover for the entire facility, and COs are concerned about the time
it would take for backup to arrive in the case of an emergency.
Special Housing Unit (SHU)
Two members toured the 32-cell SHU, a dimly lit freestanding building that was
full on the day of our visit. The control pod (posted with two COs who control cell lights,
doors and showers) sits in the center. Each cell has a solid metal door with a small
Plexiglas window and a slot to pass a food tray through. To get an inmate’s attention, we
had to knock on the door or shout through a small speaking patch. The men were
thoroughly sealed off from the outside. The level of isolation was striking.
We spoke to the inmates through the food slot so we could make eye contact
while we were interviewing them and could speak in normal tones, versus having to
shout through the speaking patch in the door.
The cells are lit with a low-watt bulb controlled by the COs. Small windows
permit some natural light. The majority of inmates wanted to speak with us. A couple of
men were sleeping; one said he was busy studying. Many were teenagers, and the sight of
such young men—practically adolescents—subjected to restrictive conditions and
sensory deprivation was unnerving. Most said they were there for fighting or dirty urines.
For the most part, the inmates seemed calm and had few complaints. They
confirmed that the officers give them their showers, food and recreation at scheduled
times, and that nurses make rounds daily. One inmate, a Hispanic man who spoke in
broken English, started to cry while speaking with a visitor. He did not understand why
he was in the SHU, he said, and we asked the Superintendent to speak with him. The
Superintendent explained the charges that landed him in the SHU, which seemed to calm
him down. He explained to another inmate that he could receive stamps. We left with the
impression that officers are not making sufficient rounds.
Meeting with Executive Team
The final meeting was a cordial exchange, as we heard mostly positive comments
throughout the day. Regarding dental care, Superintendent Rivera said that Washington


does not have a dental hygienist item and when the item did exist, they were unable to
recruit personnel due to noncompetitive state pay.
The Superintendent explained the visiting policies for family events. If an inmate
has had a family member visit within the 60 days before a scheduled family event, no
friends are able to attend the event, only family. If the inmate had no family member visit
during those 60 days, then he could invite a friend to the event. The reason for this, he
said, is to limit family events to family members to strengthen family ties. He felt that if
inmates were permitted to invite girlfriends, they would ignore their family members.
The Superintendent acknowledged the cuts in the rover positions but explained
that the cuts were made after the dorm populations were reduced by half.
We concluded the meeting by expressing the positive impression that the facility
and staff had made on us.


On May 19, 2000, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Wende Correctional
Facility, a maximum-security prison for men approximately 10 miles northeast of
Buffalo. Formerly the Erie County Penitentiary, the prison was acquired by the State of
New York in 1983. Since its opening, the prison has undergone substantial renovation,
the most significant being the construction of a Mental Health Satellite Unit, which was
opened in 1993, and a Regional Medical Unit, opened in 1998. Wende holds 962 inmates
and was at capacity the day of our visit.
We had last been to Wende in May of 1998; several members of the Visiting
Committee were returning visitors and felt that conditions and inmate-staff relations had
Superintendent Edward Donnelly approved our agenda and provided an overview
of the facility and inmate population.
Wende has a high concentration (567 out of 962) of inmates classified as “violent
felony offenders.” About a third have been convicted of murder, attempted murder or
manslaughter. Fifty-one percent are first felony offenders, 40% are second felony
offenders and 9% are persistent offenders.
According to DOCS’ Unusual Incident Report (1998), Wende has the highest rate
of UI’s in the system. (Unusual incidents include assault on inmates or staff; contraband;
death; disruptive behavior; escape; employee misconduct; fire; self-injury; sexual
misconduct; employee weapon use; inmate disturbance and destruction of property,
among others.) We asked the Superintendent if the high rate was due to the concentration
of violent felony offenders; he seemed surprised to hear of Wende’s status and suggested
that the number was artificially high in that it included medical deaths in the Regional
Medical Unit (RMU). We pointed out that the RMU was listed as its own facility with its
own UI rating.
Regional Medical Unit (RMU)
The four-story RMU contains an 18-bed infirmary for Wende’s primary care
services, 80 inpatient beds, a physical therapy room and a clinic for onsite procedures and
inmate evaluation by specialists. The RMU provides services for inmates in the Wende
Hub and statewide as needed. Overall, we were favorably impressed with the staff,
operations and the modern facility. We noted many improvements since our last visit,
shortly after the unit opened.
Inmates in both the infirmary and RMU described the care as excellent and the
doctors and nurses as caring and professional. The senior utilization nurse spent half an
hour with us, explaining how he monitors patient care and advocates on patients’ behalf.
We were equally impressed with the RMU medical director. His credentials as a board-


certified internist and prior experience as director of a substance abuse program were
among the many qualifications he brings to his position. He created his own quality
assurance program for the RMU, as well as discharge summary and admission forms. His
answers to our questions regarding rates of chronic illness, access to care, medication
compliance, and other issues showed that he was well-informed and effective.
Twenty-five inmates are HIV-positive and receive treatment. An HIV peer
educator is currently being trained. Approximately a dozen inmates have been diagnosed
with hepatitis C.
Meeting with Correction Officers
We met with one female correction officer and six male officers. In response to
our question of why they entered corrections, one officer said that he “stumbled into
corrections” and has family members in the field. Another said he took the Civil Service
exam out of high school and turned down requests from the Department to interview for
the job until he was “talked into it,” adding that he “never looked back.” Another officer
joined when the steel plant where he worked closed. He noted that his wife’s family has
11 members working in corrections.
With regard to what they like best about their jobs, three officers cited
camaraderie with their fellow officers. “We look out for each other,” they said. Another
said he “learns a lot from the inmates; there are a lot of different personalities.” In
addition, he said, the job lets you “get a good look at yourself and find out how you will
react in a pressure situation or emergency.”
The officers were faster to describe what they dislike about their jobs. They
reported it is monotonous and stressful. One officer said that they are “working with the
dregs of society and it can wear on you. You change your attitude and get cynical. A lot
of times you can leave it at the jail, but not always. It leaves you thinking that you can’t
trust anyone.” One officer explained that many people enter the field acting tough
because “you are made to believe that’s how to get respect.” Officers who start out
“hard-nosed” tend to mellow as time goes on, while those who start out “relaxed and
naive” are taken advantage of by inmates “who can sense it in a heartbeat.” As a result,
COs become more cynical.
They emphasized the danger and uncertainty inherent in their jobs. One CO
communicated the attitudes of many officers we’ve spoken with when he noted that “they
don’t pay me enough to risk my life everyday.” Another CO described how he had to
break up a fight in the kitchen and “ended up with a pot of hot syrup being dumped on
[him].” One officer likened the job to “a professional high-wire walking act where the
situation can change at anytime.”


Special Needs Unit (SNU)
We were favorably impressed with Wende’s Special Needs Unit (SNU), the first
of three such units in the state prison system. (There are SNUs at Sullivan Correctional
Facility and Arthur Kill.) The unit consists of 52 single cells, two classrooms and an
indoor recreation room. The SNU is designed for inmates with IQs of less than 70, or
with developmental and learning disabilities. The inmates have their own yard and mess
hall and mix with the general population at sick call, religious services and on visits.
On the third floor of the unit is an honor block for SNU inmates, with large cells
with TVs. To qualify for and stay on the honor block, inmates must exhibit good
behavior, participate in programs and keep up with personal hygiene.
The unit has its own staff—two teachers, two teaching assistants and a
recreational therapist. One classroom has computers with math and reading software.
Posters and maps decorate the classroom walls. In a room where inmates are taught Adult
Daily Living (ADL) skills, there is a stove, washer and dryer, sink, a table and six chairs.
Here, the inmates are taught socialization skills, cooking and hygiene.
The unit staff, both civilians and security, was particularly impressive. Inmates
referred to two COs as “good guys.” They reported that the COs are willing to listen and
help. “The COs and teachers here cheer me up,” one said. “I feel much safer here than at
We spoke with a correction counselor who runs groups for substance abuse,
aggression, and sex offenders on the unit. She reported that Wende’s SNU is the most
structured of the three units in New York’s system.
Mental Health Services
The unit consists of six observation cells, eight dormitory beds and 38
Intermediate Care Program (ICP) cells. In addition to housing mentally ill inmates from
other prisons, the unit serves Wende inmates on an outpatient basis. Over 25 percent of
the prison’s population, 250 inmates, are on the mental health caseload, of which 185
receive psychotropic medication.
According to the discharge planner, approximately 20 inmates had been released
from the OMH unit to society between January and May of 2000. Men are given a twoweek supply of medication and a 30-day prescription. The discharge planner said he
schedules appointments with community-based mental health care facilities or the
hospital where the inmate last received treatment. The inmate and his parole officer
receive a letter with the location, date and time of the appointment. The discharge planner


also prepares a Social Security Insurance (SSI) application for the inmate. Unfortunately,
he noted, the majority of men go to shelters upon release.
Intermediate Care Program (ICP)
We visited the Intermediate Care Program (ICP), run by DOCS. There are nine
ICPs in the state prison system. Typical participants are men with life-long psychological
illnesses who have spent time in and out of mental health facilities. They typically have
little or no job experience and limited ability to function in mainstream society.
A staff member pointed out artwork—large, brightly colored cartoon characters—
that an ICP inmate had painted on the wall and introduced us to the artist. He was proud
to display his work. Another sign of the therapeutic nature of the ICP was evidenced in
the treatment of a deaf inmate. Staff provided him with his own TTY (Teletypewriter)
phone and a TV with closed captioning. Two inmates on the unit speak American Sign
Language, and a staff member said that she and several other ICP inmates have picked up
“bits and pieces” of ASL. Her goal is to communicate with this inmate and keep him
involved. Two blind inmates also live on the unit.
Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC)
We met with four members of the ILC. The first issue the men raised was medical
treatment. They reported that inmates diagnosed with Hepatitis C are denied adequate
treatment. They were also concerned about what they considered to be unsanitary
conditions in the clinic. They said the RMU provides poor treatment and there has been
no hot water in the unit for over a year. They reported that the bed linens are not changed
often enough and COs dispense medications without gloves. Committee members, who
have toured many clinics, felt that these complaints were somewhat exaggerated.
In addition, they reported that visitors are often treated disrespectfully by COs.
They told of visitors being reprimanded as if they were children, and COs enforcing rules
that don’t exist (they did not provide examples). The inmates said it is frustrating and
upsetting to the visitors, who often travel long distances to see their loved ones, only to
be treated rudely by the COs. It makes them less likely to come again. One inmate told of
a female visitor who was made to remove her bra in the bathroom for inspection by a
female CO. The visitor was told to walk into the visiting room with her bra in a paper bag
and then use the bathroom there to get dressed.
The ILC also discussed what they consider to be an extensive Negative Vendors
List. They said there are too many companies from which they are not permitted to make
purchases. They reported that they were not informed of the criteria used to determine
whether a company should be placed on the Negative Vendors List. On a positive note,
they said the administration is an improvement over past executive teams, and listens to
their concerns. Compared to the serious allegations of staff misconduct, harassment and
beatings by COs and “horrendous” medical services we heard from inmates when we
visited in 1998, conditions at Wende appear to have improved considerably.


Meeting with Executive Team
We reported our favorable impression of the Regional Medical Unit, the Mental
Health Unit, SNU and ICP. We brought up inmates’ fear that they are being denied
treatment for hepatitis C and asked that they receive more information from medical staff.
The Superintendent said he would look into it.
Regarding treatment of visitors, Superintendent Donnelly reported that the ILC
brought the issue to his attention a few months before. He said he had already discussed
the problem with the steady officers in the visiting room and now surveys inmates’
family members as they leave to determine how they perceived the visiting experience.
He also informed us that the minutes from every ILC meeting are broadcast on the
prison’s closed circuit TV.
We reported the complaints about a lack of hot water in the RMU, which the
Superintendent said is due to structural problems that have taken some time to rectify.
They plan to have repairs completed in time for the American Correctional Association
audit in the fall. The Superintendent noted that more sinks will be added in the RMU.
We cited the lack of substance abuse treatment and suggested the possibility of a
Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT). The executive team agreed, and an
RSAT program has since been started.
In closing, Wende appeared to be a much improved facility since our last visit.
The new executive team received high marks from all—the inmates, staff and Visiting




n October 18, 2001, the Prison Visiting Committee toured Willard Drug
Treatment Campus, in Ovid, about 60 miles west of Binghamton. Opened in
1995, Willard is a three-month boot camp/drug treatment program that provides a new
sentencing option for low-level drug offenders and parole violators who otherwise would
have served longer prison sentences. Because of their special status, the men and women
at Willard are referred to as “parolees,” not inmates. The facility is operated by three
agencies: DOCS, the Division of Parole and the state Office of Alcohol and Substance
Abuse Services (OASAS).
Superintendent Melvin Williams reported that the primary objective of Willard is
treatment for addiction, and that each ‘platoon’ of approximately 60 parolees has its own
“treatment team.” Primary members of the team are ASAT counselors, parole officers,
and correctional counselors, all posted on the unit with the parolees. Secondary members
of the teams include teachers, vocational instructors, and correction officers (known at
Willard as drill instructors).
The three-month program at Willard is followed by six months of outpatient
supervision in the community by parole officers. In December of 1999, a 15-month
“Extended Willard” program was introduced, which provides six months of residential
treatment in the community as a bridge between Willard and outpatient treatment. The
‘Extended Willard’ program is offered only to judicially sanctioned parolees who have
demonstrated success with treatment. This criterion excludes most of Willard
participants, the majority of whom are parole violators. As of September 1, 2001, 13
individuals had completed all three phases of the 15-month program, and another 133
individuals were enrolled.
Superintendent Williams said the Department does not have recidivism rates for
Willard graduates.
The first thing one notices about Willard DTC is the military discipline that is
observed at all times, in the classroom as well as in formal drill sessions. Boots are
polished, uniforms are clean, and meals are eaten in silence. At all times, parolees speak
only with permission, and then only according to military protocol, which means
beginning and ending all sentences with ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’ The organizational benefits of
those rules were immediately obvious. The campus was quiet, clean, and orderly, and at
every program we visited, parolees were engaged in organized activity.
Academic instruction at Willard is limited mainly to GED classes, although there
are some books and occupational coursework available for parolees who have their GED.
All parolees are tested upon admission and given an individualized “diagnostic
prescription” and weekly assignments from a textbook. Parolees work silently at their

desks in large, well-lit classrooms. If someone has a question, he stands silently on line to
ask the teacher or one of parolees who work as unpaid tutors. This system has the
advantage of allowing students to study at their own pace. Not everyone benefits from
this method, however, especially those at either end of the spectrum – the illiterate and
learning disabled, and the college-level students, who have little organized material to
work with.
Willard offers vocational classes in plumbing, architecture, carpentry, building
maintenance, and masonry for parolees who have their GED. Some of the vocational
students have built structures on the campus. At the masonry class we visited, which was
clean and well supplied with tools and materials, five female parolees were assembling
brick walls and then taking them apart again. Oddly, graduates of vocational classes are
not given certificates of completion, or any letter of recommendation. The Deputy
Superintendent of Programs reported that inmates become “certificate-crazy” and enroll
only for the sake of getting a certificate, rather than for learning.
The masonry teacher struck as us enthusiastic and amiable. He felt that the skills
he taught were sufficient to get a job as a brick layer; however, he did not know any
specific student who had gotten a job nor did he have any contacts with employers. He
was more interested in the therapeutic value of the class. “For many of these students,
this is the first thing they’ve ever accomplished in their lives,” he said. “They see they
can do this, and they realize they can do other things.”
Treatment of addiction is the main objective at Willard, and the treatment
methods are in accordance with the philosophy of Shock Incarceration. According to that
philosophy, a person's failure to get along with others is a symptom of his own
maladjusted behaviors. So individuals who are having problems in the group are publicly
confronted by the their platoon in organized weekly confrontation sessions. The sessions
can last up to four or five hours. We witnessed part of two such sessions. In the first, a
middle-aged black man was singled out for confrontation by fourteen other parolees.
Sitting in a circle in the center of the room, the man was harshly criticized for being
obnoxious, for talking in no-talking areas, for not participating in groups, for having a
bad attitude, and for making racist comments. “You called the DI a peckerwood,” one
man said, “and I resent that because my wife is white.” Counselors and officers clapped
and cheered, while other members of the platoon raised their hands in agreement. The us
vs. them mentality of COs and inmates seemed to have vanished.
The second part of the confrontation session comes after the individual has been
‘broken down’ by public criticism. Then he is told to own up to his behavior and to take
responsibility for changing it. Another session we saw was in this stage. The confronted
parolee was sitting at a desk in a circle with his platoon. “I own that I took the peanut
butter,” he mumbled. The counselor chided him to talk louder and to tell the group how
he planned to change his behavior. “I’ll observe military protocol 24/7,” he said. A
counselor cut him off, shouting, “Don’t give us the Shock answer! Don’t give us what
you think we want to hear! Close the book and talk to us!” Eventually the parolee
promised to “stop playing the victim” and to “start working through the 12 Steps.” The


counselor then adopted a softer approach, telling the parolee that he needed to respond
better to stress.
“It’s easy to break a man down,” Superintendent Williams told us later, “but it’s
very important to build him back up.”
We were glad to see that formal procedures for monitoring staff performance are
conducted by a Quality Improvement Committee, which regularly assesses counselors’
case notes. In addition, Willard staff recently developed anonymous exit evaluations for
parolees to fill out on their last day. Staff said that they were still analyzing and
compiling the feedback.
Meeting with Parole Officers
We met with three parole officers and a senior parole officer, who were
enthusiastic about their job and candid about what they thought were Willard’s positive
attributes (the military discipline) and problems (the transition process back to the
The POs seemed supportive of the program and appreciative of parolees’ life
skills. “They’re survivors,” said one PO, citing an exercise where parolees managed to
create household budgets based on an income that “I’d be afraid to live on.” The parole
officers thought that the weakest part of Willard DTC was the transition for graduates
back into the community. “We’re selling a pie in the sky,” one said. “We talk about
community support, family values, finding strength in your peers. Then we send them to
the same dysfunctional situations, the same poverty they came from. We teach them what
they need to look for, but they can’t find it.”
The senior parole officer felt that Willard POs should have more contact with POs
in the community and suggested that Willard parole officers be allowed to follow their
platoon after graduation and maybe spend a few days with them in the community.
Another officer, who had worked with Willard graduates in the field before coming to
Willard, said that she wished she had known more about the Willard program so she
could have helped enforce the right habits and better understood the difficulties of
Meeting with Drill Instructors
The four Drill Instructors (DIs) we met with were among the most upbeat
correction officers the Visiting Committee has encountered. Three of them had been at
Willard since it opened or soon after; their correctional experience ranged from 20
months to 27 years. Some of them had initially been apprehensive about working at
Willard, fearing the physical demands (all DIs must do exercises with their parolees) as
well as the extra responsibility of being more involved in the treatment process and
assuming a more active leadership role. They all felt that being a DI at Willard was more
demanding but more rewarding than any other prison experience. One DI said he hadn’t


“banged in” (called in sick) in months; another said his wife told him that his personality
had improved since he started working there. One DI, who had previously worked at
Great Meadow, a maximum-security prison, said that he drives an hour and a half each
way to work at Willard when he could work at a prison seven minutes from his home. At
other state correctional facilities, he said, “It’s just, ‘do your eight hours and go home.”
Another added, “We’re not just babysitters here.”
The DIs felt that Willard parolees are no different than regular prison inmates, but
that the culture of the Willard produces different behavior. One sergeant said she often
encounters parolees whom she knew as inmates at Sing Sing, where she worked for ten
years. She is always amazed at the change. “[Here] I tell them to do something and they
do it without a struggle.” A lieutenant said he leaves his house at three o’clock in the
morning in order to get to Willard by five and run laps with the platoons. He told stories
of being thanked by parolees and their parents for transforming their lives.
The DIs enjoy making a difference, playing an active role in parolee’s lives, and –
unthinkable in a traditional prison setting – acting as role models. They said that the lack
of behavioral problems at Willard is due in part to the short sentence, which gives
parolees incentive to follow the rules. They also noted that at Willard the schedule is so
regimented that parolees “don’t have time to think.”
Meeting with Parolees
We met with five parolees, one female and four males. Four of them had been
judicially sanctioned; one was a parole violator. (This was an inverse ratio to the general
population, 80% of whom are parole violators, 20% judicially sanctioned). As the
interview progressed (and with encouragement from us to be candid), their military
bearing began to loosen – hands came off thighs, spines relaxed. The parolees said they
didn’t mind the regimented schedules and military protocols – most said that was the best
part of the program – but they complained that few of the counselors were actually
interested in helping them with their problems. “You can’t speak or think. Your opinion
doesn’t matter,” they said. “They treat you like robots.”
The parolees named several obstacles to adequate therapy. First, there is a lack of
individual counseling. A few times a week there is an activity called “three minute
clearing,” where each member gets exactly three minutes to talk about whatever’s
bothering him (with no feedback or conversation afterwards). Other than that, individual
counseling sessions are mostly reserved for praising or rebuking parolees who are doing
exceptionally well or poorly in the program. Second, the military protocols on language
impede free and honest discussion. It is difficult to open up to a counselor when you have
to begin every sentence with ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am.’ Finally, parolees didn’t feel safe talking to
individual counselors because some counselors were known to use personal information
against them in the confrontation sessions. For example, one parolee’s counselor shouted
out in the confrontation session that he had a mental disorder, something he had told her
in private. “She threw it in my face like a dagger,” he said. “I just kept thinking, 90 days,
90 days, and then you can relax.” Other parolees nodded, confirming our sense that the


hostile and accusatory nature of the confrontation sessions might cause people to avoid
disclosure and shut down in self-defense.
On the other hand, some of the parolees did feel that confrontations could be
worthwhile. They felt strongly that they should be conducted more professionally and
compassionately, with less yelling and more respect for the privacy of the individual and
with more effort afterward to restore the person’s self-esteem. “They leave you open and
exposed,” one parolee said.
Disturbingly, parolees reported that they are forced to participate in confrontation
sessions, or else fail their weekly evaluations and get kicked out of the program and sent
to prison. This means that they feel pressure to join in the accusations even if they don’t
know whether the accusations are true. “The parolee being confronted might live in
another dorm,” one person said, “You don’t know anything about him, but you raise your
hand [and agree with the accusations] anyway, just to get the [participation] points.” A
Willard graduate we met with on the outside said that he would often tell parolees in
advance that he was going to go along with the group confrontation and not to take it
personally. “The whole process encourages conning and lying,” he said.
Parolees requested dedicated platoons, and a more thorough orientation (both of
which the superintendent promised would be instituted in the next few months). Parolees
also complained that the phone privileges – limited to one ten-minute phone call every
two weeks – are inadequate. One parolee wanted more information on other drugs
besides heroin and crack and alcohol, “club drugs” such as ecstasy and LSD. Parolees
laughed when we asked them about the library – ‘what library?’ – and said they’d never
seen the bookshelf of drug information contained in the DOCS Today write-up of
Finally, parolees said that the success of the program ultimately rested on the
staff. They had strong praise for certain DIs, whose names we passed on to
Superintendent Williams.
Meeting with Executive Team
At the debriefing session with Superintendent Williams and his staff, we raised
our concerns about the destructive nature of the confrontation process, and its
susceptibility to abuse by parolees and staff. They told us that the process works well if it
is facilitated effectively, and that they were always trying to model the right method for
their staff. They said that counselors are not supposed to bring up private information in
public confrontation sessions, and are not supposed to use military language in
counseling sessions. They said they understood the need for care and compassion and
want to encourage those attributes.
We also brought up the lack of certificates in vocational training. They hesitated
to award certificates, having worked in prisons where inmates focused more on gaining
certificates rather than on developing skills. However, they offered to put a letter in the


parolee’s file for his parole officer to see, detailing how much training the parolee had
completed. We suggested handing a letter of recommendation directly to the parolee on
graduation, and they said they would consider it.
All in all, we left with the sense that Willard is an effective program which, with
some improvements and more monitoring of staff to ensure that treatment is therapeutic
versus punitive, should be expanded so that more nonviolent drug offenders can


Adult Basic Education (ABE): Academic instruction for inmates who test below the
eighth-grade level in reading or math.
Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (ASAT): A drug treatment program in prison
focusing on chemical dependency, education, and recovery. ASAT participants typically
reside in a separate dormitory, which is run as a “therapeutic community.”
Cadre: Specially assigned inmate work crews that perform a range of jobs inside a
prison. Inmates who are selected for cadre—considered one of the better prison
assignments—must have a good institutional record and no serious medical or mental
health needs.
Central New York Psychiatric Center (CNYPC): An inpatient, maximum-security
psychiatric hospital overseen by the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH).
Located in Marcy, New York, CNYPC consists of 210 beds.
CO: Correction Officer
Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT): Post-ASAT
drug treatment program for inmates within a year of their release date. Participants reside
in a CASAT unit in a correctional facility or a residential treatment program in the
community. CASAT focuses on relapse prevention and the transition from incarceration
to the community.
Corcraft: A manufacturing program operating in 15 prisons. Corcraft workers make file
cabinets, license plates, furniture, soap and other items for purchase by other state
agencies. Corcraft is one of the most popular and highest-paying prison work
Department of Correctional Services (DOCS): The New York State agency
responsible for the confinement of approximately 67,200 inmates held at 70 state
correctional facilities.
GED: General Equivalency Exam, equivalent to a high school diploma.
General Population: Inmates confined in general housing areas.
Hub System: The grouping of correctional facilities by geographical proximity into
administrative regions. These regions, called Hubs, are groups of neighboring facilities
that share administrative, support and program services.


Inmate Liaison Committee (ILC): A leadership group of prisoners that serves as a
liaison between inmates and the prison administration. Members are elected by other
Intermediate Care Program (ICP): A therapeutic, residential program for inmates who
are unable to function in general population because of mental illness. ICPs are run
jointly by DOCS and the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH). There are
currently nine ICPs throughout the state with a total capacity of 534 beds. ICPs are
designed to provide inmates with the support and life skills training they need to return to
the general population.
Keeplock: Short-term disciplinary confinement, usually for periods of 30 days or less.
Keeplocked prisoners are confined to their cells 24 hours a day and given one hour of
court-mandated recreation. Phone calls, packages, and commissary privileges are usually
Mental Health Level: Upon admission to the state prison system, all inmates are
evaluated and given a mental health level based on their psychiatric needs. The inmate is
then sent to a prison that provides the level of service indicated. Service levels range from
1 – 6, with Level 1 being the most intense level of service and Level 6 requiring no
services. Level 1 correctional facilities contain Mental Health Satellite Units, which have
at least one full-time psychiatrist, a full-time psychologist, support staff and several
program components. Level 2 facilities have Mental Health Units and at least a part-time
psychiatrist and full-time psychologist. Level 3 and 4 facilities have only part-time
mental health staff. Facilities with no mental health staff are assigned Level 6. (There is
no Level 5).
Office of Mental Health (OMH): The New York State agency that oversees, regulates
and provides mental health services in inpatient and outpatient psychiatric centers and
community-based programs throughout the state. OMH provides mental health services
to approximately 7,400 state inmates.
Progressive Inmate Movement System (PIMS): A system of graduated privileges in
SHU-200s, and in Upstate and Southport Correctional Facilities, which allows inmates to
earn privileges and receive time cuts on their disciplinary sentence based on good
behavior. All inmates begin at Level I, the most restrictive status, and can progress to
Level III, the least restrictive status. Level I inmates wear leg irons during all out-of-cell
movement, and handcuffs attached to waist chains during visits (family and legal).
Earphones and commissary privileges are prohibited. Stamps—up to 50 a month—are the
only items they can purchase. Indigent inmates receive one free stamp per month.
Upon completion of half their disciplinary sentence, Level I inmates are reviewed by a
Disciplinary Review Committee, which may recommend to the Superintendent that up to
one third of the inmate’s remaining time be cut. At Level II, inmates who do not have a
high school diploma or GED can enroll in a cell study program. Restraints are removed
during visits. Cellmates receive a deck of cards. At Level III, inmates get an additional


weekly shower (for a total of four a week), one pair of sneakers, permission to wear their
own, rather than prison, underwear, and an additional 30 minutes of recreation per day.
Residential Substance Abuse Treatment (RSAT): An intensive, six-month residential
treatment program that currently operates in the following correctional facilities: Albion,
Altona, Attica, Clinton, Coxsackie, Eastern, Elmira, Gouverneur, Green Haven, Hudson,
Ogdensburg, Otisville, Sullivan, and Wallkill.
Special Housing Unit (SHU): Disciplinary confinement units for inmates who violate
prison rules. Conditions include 23-hour lock-up, limited or no access to programs, phone
calls or congregate activities.
SHU-200: Also known as “S-Blocks,” SHU-200s are high-tech disciplinary housing
units for inmates who violate rules in general population. Inmates in SHU-200s are
double-celled, 24 hours a day. Nine SHU-200s, holding a total of 1,800 prisoners, have
been built since 1998 on the grounds of the following medium-security prisons: Cayuga,
Collins, Fishkill, Gouveneur, Greene, Lakeview, Marcy, Mid-State and Orleans.
Special Needs Unit (SNU): A therapeutic residential program for inmates with
developmental disabilities (an IQ of less than 70) who are considered victim-prone and
unable to function in the general population.
Supermax: A highly restrictive, fully-automated, freestanding control unit that houses
prisoners who violate rules in general population. This document defines the following
eleven New York prisons as supermaxes: Upstate Correctional Facility, Southport
Correctional Facility and each of the nine SHU-200s.




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