September 8, 2018
ALBANY, NY – Statement From Assemblyman Phil Palmesano:
As the pressure-cooker environment inside of our state correctional facilities continues to intensify, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) wrote to the governor this week seeking new state resources to ensure safe staffing levels in our prisons. Palmesano believes the governor should reverse his bad policies that have led to a sharp spike in assaults on our brave correction officers.
“Nearly two months ago on July 13th an inmate at Elmira Correctional Facility violently attacked a correction officer, striking him several times in the face and the body. This is part of a disturbing and dangerous pattern of violence that has continued to fester in our correctional facilities, and this is directly a result of your failed leadership and policies put in place by your administration,” reads the letter.
Based on data aggregated last year, assaults on correction officers are up 52 percent since 2012 (524 to 798). Inmate-on-inmate assaults are up 87 percent over the same period (652-1220).
In the letter, Palmesano points out that the administration has boasted about closing 13 prisons while doing nothing to end the dangerous practice of double bunking and double celling inmates.
“Unfortunately, our state correctional facilities still have over 6,000 double bunks and double cells, totaling nearly 13,000 beds. Clearly this policy is not a safe environment for correction officers, staff and even inmates. This practice should be eliminated and eliminated immediately,” Palmesano wrote.
Palmesano noted the strong correlation between the increasing proliferation of drugs and the increasing violence in our facilities. He decried the governor’s decision to prevent canine units from being stationed at each correctional facility despite the fact that narcotics seizures and positive inmate drug tests are rampant. In each of the last three years, there were over 5,500 positive drug tests in the inmate population. He also criticized the governor for rescinding a program which would’ve helped improve screening procedures so correction officers could find narcotics hidden in mailed packages.
“There should be no drugs in our prisons, period,” wrote Palmesano.
He blamed the governor’s misplaced priorities.
“Whether it’s restricting the use of Special Housing Units for dangerous and violent inmates, taking away a program to help stop drugs getting to inmates or providing iPads to inmates, you seem to be on the side of the inmate, not our dedicated staff who are working very dangerous jobs to keep us safe. I find this disturbing and unbecoming of the chief executive of our state. You are supposed to be advocating policies that keep our brave men and women safe; these policies do just the opposite,” he wrote.
Palmesano also advocated for safe staffing levels and better wages and benefits for correction officers. Last year, the governor vetoed a bill that would protect the pensions of officers who die before they officially retire.
“It was a slap in the face to these incredible individuals who go into work each day to keep us safe with no guarantee they will return home safely to their families,” wrote Palmesano.
“And, please know that I will continue to be outspoken in my support for our correction officers and in my adamant opposition to your failed leadership and dangerous policies at our state’s correctional facilities,” concluded Palmesano.
Response From Colin Brennan, Deputy Communications Director For Public Safety:
Clearly, the Assemblyman has chosen to ignore the facts and spew misinformation for his own political purposes. One would hope that an elected official would take the time to understand the issues and recognize what the administration has done and continues to do, rather than try to cherry pick things out of context to fit his uninformed, flawed narrative.
In reality, not only does New York maintain one of the best CO-to-inmate ratios in the country, but nearly all double bunks have been removed from maximum security facilities. Further, we have consistently invested in new and innovative security measures to help improve the safety of prisons. This includes everything from a new statewide pepper spray program to the expansion of our K9 program and the implementation of new technologies like Cellsense, a portable contraband detector and thermal-imaging devices.
The men and women who work in New York’s prison system have some of the most difficult jobs in the state and its truly unfortunate that the Assemblyman is attempting to use them as a political football.