Assaults reach record highs in New York prisons
There were a record number of assaults in New York state prisons last year, against both staff members and other prisoners, according to statistics from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Because of these high numbers, the leading union for correctional officers is once again calling for a repeal of the HALT Act, which banned excessive use of solitary confinement in state prisons.
According to DOCCS, there were 1,489 assaults on staff members statewide in 2022, up from 1,177 in 2021. This number has gradually risen over at least the past five years, up from only 799 reports assaults on staff in 2017.
There were 1,486 assaults on other inmates in 2022, up from 1,108 in 2021, state officials said. This number has risen and dropped year after year, by a few dozen or a few hundred in both directions. The number of assaults in 2022 was the highest in at least the past five years, by more than 200.
The HALT Act, which severely limits, or in some cases eliminates, the ability to place incarcerated individuals into solitary confinement away from the general population, was implemented in all state-run prisons on April 1, 2022.
“For nearly nine months, thousands of people who work in or reside in prison, have been forced to endure some of the most violent conditions New York has ever experienced,” said Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association.
“The HALT Act has dismantled any semblance of safety measures for staff or incarcerated individuals alike, by stripping the ability to separate violent predators from their prey for any meaningful amount of time and the data clearly reflects that.”
NYSCOPBA is calling on the New York State Legislature to repeal the HALT Act in light of 2022’s statistics.
“The numbers are simply alarming and should serve as a wakeup call to anyone who isn’t paying attention. HALT has created a new level of violence our correctional facilities has never experienced before,” said Powers.
“Despite what the sponsors of the HALT Act believe, HALT doesn’t make our prisons safer, as it has only emboldened the most violence individuals who reside in our facilities. Our members, who are severely overworked and understaffed, need the elected leaders of this state to show that they care about the safety and security of the state’s workforce, as well as the well-being of the incarcerated community, by repealing the HALT Act immediately.”
In response to NYSCOPBA’s demands and the violence statistics from last year, DOCCS officials said they have been closely monitoring all prisons since HALT went into effect. Officials said all prison superintendents who supervise a residential rehabilitation unit have been directed to use restraints any time an incarcerated individual is under escort and while participating in out-of-cell programming.
DOCCS officials said they continue to monitor the use of restraints in prisons, and have even removed restraints in areas where staff and prisoner safety has not been an issue.
A new vendor package program was implemented on the recommendation of the Prison Violence Task Force, officials said, which will hopefully address the significant increase in packages found to contain contraband drugs and weapons, officials said. Illicit drug use in prisons is known to increase violence, they stated.
DOCCS officials said they are also working to improve and expand their body-worn camera program, as well as their K9 teams to help search for drugs.
“The safety and well-being of staff and incarcerated individuals is our top priority,” DOCCS officials said in a release.
“The Department has zero tolerance for violence within our facilities and anyone engaged in misconduct will be disciplined, and if warranted, incidents will be referred for outside prosecution.”
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