Report: Right-size Albany Administration in Correctional System

Assemblyman Barclay, right, speaking at the rally to save the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility held on Tuesday, March 23.
Assemblyman Barclay, right, speaking at the rally to save the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility held on Tuesday, March 23.

Assemblyman Will Barclay (R,C,I—Pulaski) joined his colleagues in Albany at a press conference to unveil a report that puts forth reform measures for the State Department of Correctional Services. This report details findings of the Assembly Republican Task Force on Workforce Issues in the Correctional System. The Task Force held 10 public forums in Albany, Alden, Auburn, Comstock, Fishkill, Gouverneur, Malone, New Windsor and Verona throughout the summer and fall of 2009. The forums focused on exploring ways to improve safety and enhance efficiency within state prisons.

Task Force members heard testimony from rank-and-file officers, medical personnel, educators, and counselors, along with members of NYSCOPBA (New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association), CSEA (Civil Services Employees Association) and PEF (Public Employees Federation) who are charged with the day-to-day operational responsibility of keeping correctional facilities safe and secure. Numerous invitations were extended to State Department of Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer and other administration officials, who, unfortunately, chose not to testify.

Co-Chairs Assemblymen Gary D. Finch (R,C,I-Springport) and Joseph M. Giglio (R,I,C-Gowanda), Ranking Republican on the Assembly Committee on Correction, unveiled the Task Force’s final report during the press conference today. The Governor has proposed closing Ogdensburg Medium Security, Lyon Mountain Minimum Security Facility; Moriah Shock Facility; and, Butler Minimum Security.

“The Governor and the Department of Corrections claim that the declining inmate population merits these closures. I strongly disagree. New York’s prisons are already overcrowded and understaffed. These closures would put our correctional officers and the public in jeopardy. It would force 759 inmates into other facilities. Will this mean that we will see more inmates eligible for early release?” said Barclay.

“Further, I am concerned about the careers and welfare of our corrections officers and employees who are on the front line. Overcrowding the prisons while reducing staff places corrections officers’ and employees in direct danger. Although there are provisions for transfers and reassignment, hundreds of positions will be eliminated. While I agree that the state needs to cut spending and have actively fought for spending constraints, closing prisons and placing the public at risk is not a viable option. Instead, this report puts forth some alternatives to cost savings and suggests the Department of Correctional Services Command Center in Albany be evaluated for efficiency.”

“We are pleased to have our long-held claims of a top-heavy administration validated,” said Donn Rowe, President of NYSCOPBA. “This thorough report encompasses ten hearings from across the state where it was illustrated numerous times that DOCS manipulates its data, cuts from the bottom to maintain the top and is creating a system that endangers my members, civilian staff and inmates. We thank the Task Force for taking the time to investigate this very serious matter and hope the public is now more aware of the state’s prison system.”

Key findings of the report include the following:

The Department of Correctional Services has changed the way it reports “percentage of occupancy data,” maintained unsafe inmate-to-staff ratios, allowed the double bunking of inmates, failed to maintain the required number of Crisis Intervention Personnel and downgraded certain violent incidents by not reporting them as assaults;

Maintaining prison capacities below 100 percent, ensuring proper staffing ratios, eliminating double bunking and keeping the number of Crisis Intervention Personnel at appropriate levels will reduce serious injuries occurring in state prisons;

The New York State Commission of Correction should initiate a study to determine the most accurate way of reporting prison capacity statistics, review the current practice of counting temporary, infirmary and special housing unit beds as permanent beds, and establish appropriate inmate-to-officer staffing ratios that will reduce prison violence and the number of “Unusual Incidents”;

Additionally, the study should verify the necessity of administrative positions based in Albany, evaluate which services and programs the Hubs can administer, determine the scope of responsibilities for each administrator and closely examine state-funded housing and other public benefits allegedly given to superintendents and administrators;

Administrative personnel at the Department of Correctional Services Control Center provide an overlap of non-essential services. The size of the Department of Correctional Services’ internal administration needs to be right sized accordingly;

The Department of Correctional Services has not used tax money wisely in its prison closures, adaptive reuse plans or the elimination of prison farm operations. Careful consideration needs to be given toward the development and implementation of a reasonable, three-year reuse plan for facilities that have been closed or are slated for closure; and

Tailoring a viable reuse plan to an affected local community’s specific needs to make up for the devastating impact of facility closures on local economies and quality of life is of paramount importance. The report also recommends that New York explore moving federal prisoners to state facilities to generate revenue and making effective use of vacant prison farmland.

The Assembly Republican Task Force on Workforce Issues in the Correctional System will submit its report and specific recommendations to Governor David Paterson, the State Legislature, the New York State Department of Correctional Services and the New York State Commission of Correction for their review and input.