N.Y. CO slashed in face with razor during inmate transfer, union says

The union's president said the incident is largely a result of the HALT Act limiting segregated confinement


By Ben Muir
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.
        
CAPE VINCENT, N.Y. — A corrections officer needed nine stitches after an inmate allegedly slashed him in the face with a razor Friday night.

Michael B. Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, said an inmate being transferred to the Cape Vincent Correctional Facility Friday evening spit at a corrections officer and then cut him in the face with a razor blade that was fastened into a pen cap. Four other corrections officers who got involved sustained ankle, shoulder, knee and hand injuries, the union said.

Mr. Powers said the incident is largely a result of the HALT Act. The Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement, which then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law on March 31, 2021, in part limited the amount of time inmates can be in segregated confinement to 15 days, or 20 out of 60 days unless they commit specific acts.

On the same day COs were injured by two inmates in an upstate facility, an inmate was slashed across the face by another inmate at Clinton Correctional Facility.
On the same day COs were injured by two inmates in an upstate facility, an inmate was slashed across the face by another inmate at Clinton Correctional Facility. "All we have seen is a rise in violence against staff and other inmates" since HALT took effect, the union said. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

The act also prohibits incarcerated people in special populations from being sentenced to solitary confinement and limits their keep-lock placement to 48 hours. The law redefined special populations to be excluded from solitary, such as pregnant women, or those with disabilities and significant mental health issues, and also mandates people in solitary confinement receive programming by therapeutic staff five days per week.

"Solitary confinement doesn't exist anywhere in the United States," Mr. Powers said. "It was a term the left Legislature used to get this passed. It's called segregated confinement, which is no different than taking a violent offender in your community off the streets for committing acts of violence to maintain safety in the community."

He said that's what happened in this case. The inmate had committed an act of violence in a different correctional facility and was transferred to a HALT rehab facility. He spent 15 days there and then was transferred to the Cape Vincent facility, allegedly assaulting the officer shortly after he arrived.

"It was completely unprovoked," Mr. Powers said. "There are no consequences for criminal activity within our penal system."

Mr. Powers said he's been arguing against the HALT measures since 2017. Since the HALT Act took effect April 1, there have been 55 unusual or violent acts by inmates, he said.

"We argued it won't work and the statistics are proving it," he said, "and now it's coming at the expense of the health and safety of our corrections officers, citizen staff members and inmates."

[MORE: N.Y. CO union calls for action, fears state prisons could get worse in 2022]

Mr. Powers said he still is urging lawmakers to take a second look at the legislation.

"This Legislature needs to wake up," he said. "There is going to be blood on their hands."

NYSCOPBA has continued to criticize the HALT Act in its news releases on recent violence in prisons. On April 7, two corrections officers were injured after an alleged assault at Riverview Correctional Facility in Ogdensburg. Two Riverview inmates also got into a physical fight with one another on April 5, the union said.

The union also said that corrections officers were injured by two inmates on Tuesday at Upstate Correctional Facility in Malone.

"All we have seen" since the HALT Act took effect, "is a rise in violence against staff and other inmates in correctional facilities across the state," NYSCOPBA Northern Region Vice President John Roberts said in a prepared statement. "On the same day of the Upstate attack, an inmate was slashed across the face by another inmate at Clinton Correctional Facility which caused a laceration from the inmate's mouth to his ear. With a disciplinary system that is weakened to a level that it has little or no deterrence, all our members can rely on is for county district attorney offices to prosecute inmates who attack staff and other inmates when it is appropriate. Without it, there is little or no defense for continued attacks."

The union has maintained that the HALT Act "waters down" the prison disciplinary system.

Settlements in 2012 and 2016 between the New York Civil Liberties Union and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to overhaul the state's solitary system have also required the state to have fewer isolating conditions, expand programming and eliminate using special housing units as punishment for minor violations.
   
(c)2022 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

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