NY Assembly votes to end prison double bunking

The bill, introduced by a retired state corrections officer, now goes to the governor for signing


By Joe Lotemplio
The Press-Republican
        
ALBANY — The state Assembly approved a bill Monday that would end double-bunking, a controversial practice, in state medium security prisons.

The union that represents 18,000 correction officers and sergeants applauds the measure.

'Right sizing the system'

"Forcing incarcerated individuals to be "double-bunked" was a necessary step decades ago when the state had to increase the capacity of its prison system, but that need no longer exists," New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association President Michael Powers said in a statement.

"By passing legislation prohibiting this outdated practice, the state is finally right-sizing the system with the safety and security of our staff in mind. On behalf of the brave men and women of NYSCOPBA, I'd like to thank Assemblyman (D. Billy) Jones for his tireless efforts carrying this bill through, and to the legislative leadership for hearing our members' concerns and doing what was right. I urge Governor (Andrew) Cuomo to sign this legislation into law immediately."

No return to old practice

Prior to the COVID pandemic, regulations allowed for up to 60 inmates to be housed in a medium security dorm, with 10 such inmates living in double-bunked cubicles designed for one inmate, a news release from NYSCOPBA said.

During COVID, dorm facilities have adjusted their practices of double bunking in the interest of public health. By making this regulation change in statute, this will ensure there is no return to this practice, the release said.

The bill was introduced in the Assembly by Assemblyman Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake), a retired state corrections officer. The legislation passed the State Senate in late April.

"As a 20-year correction officer, I've worked in dorms that utilize double bunks to house inmates," Jones said.

"The prison setting is stressful enough without requiring a single officer to supervise 60 inmates during a shift. The practice of double bunking is irresponsible and outdated. The need to address the overcrowding in medium dorms by removing double bunks and limiting the number of inmates in those dorms to a maximum of 50 is well overdue.

"The passage of this bill is a step forward to ensuring our hard working correctional staff, who came to work day in and day out during the public health crisis, are working in safer conditions and I urge the governor to sign this legislation."

State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) also agreed with the approval of the bill.

"The practice of the double bunking raises the risk of conflict in our prisons, making the environment less safe for correctional officers and inmates," Stec said.

"The COVID pandemic certainly points to the benefit of distancing when it comes to mitigating infectious disease. For these reasons, I was pleased to co-sponsor and vote in favor of this legislation. I certainly hope Governor Cuomo signs it into law."

(c)2021 the Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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