N.Y. prison violence reaches all-time high with record number of assaults on staff

As of Nov. 1, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported 1,231 assaults on staff


By Robert Harding
The Citizen

AUBURN, N.Y. — Violence has escalated in New York state prisons, with assaults on staff at a record level and a near-record number of assaults on incarcerated individuals.

As of Nov. 1, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reported 1,231 assaults on staff, breaking the previous record of 1,177 set in 2021. There have been 1,207 assaults on incarcerated individuals, just shy of the record (1,265) set in 2019.

While most of the assaults on staff have occurred at maximum-security prisons (858), 352 were at medium-security facilities — another new record. The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, a union representing state corrections officers, said in October that an officer at Cayuga Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Cayuga County, was slashed by an incarcerated individual.

A DOCCS spokesperson said in a statement Monday that the department formed a prison violence task force in December 2021 amid increasing numbers of assaults on staff. The goal of the task force, according to the spokesperson, was to "evaluate and develop recommendations to enhance safety and security in New York's prisons."

One focus of the task force was combating the flow of contraband into correctional facilities. DOCCS has new restrictions on packages, which have been criticized by family members of incarcerated individuals. But the department says there is "anecdotal evidence that it is working, as fewer packages have contained contraband since the program's implementation." More visitors have been arrested for trying to bring contraband into facilities.

DOCCS said there were 290 packages with contraband in 2019. The number increased to 924 in 2020 — the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were 577 packages with contraband between January and August 2021.

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Since the department implemented its vender package program, there has been one package with contraband.

But NYSCOPBA blames a state law, the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act, or HALT, for the increase in violence. The union has been a leading critic of the law and unsuccessfully challenged it in a federal court.

HALT's main provisions include limiting segregated confinement to 15 consecutive days or 20 days in a 60-day period. The law also created residential rehabilitation units, which are intended to be alternatives to special housing units.

Although assaults on staffs have increased annually over a five-year period, NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said it doesn't explain the the "significant spike" after April 1 when HALT took effect.

"This is a sad day for New York," Powers said. "Not only are the members of NYSCOPBA, who continue to work in the harshest of working conditions being assaulted at never before seen rates, but their health and safety is being ignored by those who are charged with protecting the state workforce, the elected leaders of the New York state Legislature."

According to DOCCS' data, there were 652 injuries reported after assaults on staff in a three-month period, from August through October. A vast majority of the injuries (616) were minor, which are classified by the department as injuries requiring "no treatment, minimal treatment (scratch, bruise, aches/pain) or precautionary treatment." Twenty-six were moderate injuries, such as second-degree burns, concussions, cuts, or sprains. Ten were considered serious and required treatment at an outside hospital.

DOCCS also said there were 41 staff injuries while intervening in assaults on incarcerated individuals. Nearly all were minor injuries, but there was one moderate and one serious injury reported.

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