(WETM) – The NYS Corrections Officer Union is calling on the state to pause the HALT Solitary Confinement Act set to go into effect this Friday, saying corrections officers don’t want to go home to their families with bruises and cuts anymore.
In a statement, the New York State Corrections Officer and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) President Michael Powers said that after a record number of inmate attacks (1,173 attacks against staff) in 2021, according to numbers from DOCCS, this year is on pace to surpass those figures. Powers drew attention to the fact that there’s increased violence “despite a significantly smaller incarcerated population.”
“HALT, which hinders the ability to separate vicious predators from the general prison population for more than fifteen days, if at all, will only exacerbate the issue,” Powers said in the statement. “The reality is, in order to achieve a better rehabilitation model, you must first address the violence. It simply cannot be ignored or else you will continue to see chaos and an unhealthy environment for everyone who resides inside a prison facility.”
NYSCOPBA’s Mid-Hudson region Vice President Chris Moreau echoed Powers’ sentiments, saying “watered-down” discipline in prisons is partially to blame for the increase in violence, though without more clarity on the causes, HALT will “be detrimental to everybody”. He also said the closure of six DOCS facilities earlier this month, including Southport Correctional, certainly didn’t help, calling the “experiment” a “complete failure.” With more prisons open, inmates can be spread out, which would help lower the amount of violence, Moreau said.
He added that when it comes down to the officers on the front lines themselves, “everybody’s on edge.” Staffing is at an all-time low, according to Moreau. This, on top of inmate violence, has led to extreme mental and physical strain on officers.
“Recruitment is a challenge. Retention is a challenge,” Moreau said of corrections officers. “People are leaving the state. People are leaving the department. They don’t want to come home to their children with bruises and cuts on their faces anymore. To them, it’s not worth it.”
NYSCOPBA has proposed legislation to conduct a violence study at New York State prisons, which would try to determine the cause of the increased violence. The union has also filed a lawsuit against the State to repeal the HALT Act, saying it violates its members’ civil rights. The lawsuit is still pending.
When the bill was first signed in April 2021, former NY Governor Andrew Cuomo called solitary confinement “inhumane punishment.” State Senator Julia Salazar called it “a practice that has perpetuated violence.” But NYSCOPBA said lawmakers that say this are misinformed.
“They should probably spend some time with my brothers and sisters in blue,” Moreau said. The union said solitary confinement doesn’t exist in New York and never has, instead, calling the practice “segregated housing.” Moreau said the cells in segregated housing are the same as the regular cells, with the only difference being more restricted movement within the facility. In fact, Moreau claimed that segregated housing units have “more accommodations than the inmates in general population.”