ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – Elmira Correctional has seen a recent uptick in attacks on corrections officers. We spoke to a union rep for the officers to see just how bad the problem really is.
“We’re not incarcerated, we don’t live in there. We just work in there. Give us a couple of days. Give us a breather. Give us a little time to have your day off,” said NYSCOPBA Western Region Vice President Kenny Gold.
Correctional officers say the HALT Solitary Confinement Act seems to be to blame for the attacks. The act was signed into law in April of 2022 after years of discussion. It restricts the use of solitary confinement and puts limits on what prisoners can be put there and for how long.
Elmira Correctional alone has experienced 58 assaults on staff and 104 inmate on inmate assaults this year.
Here are a few of the assaults from the past few months.
July 4: Three officers were injured, one was struck multiple times in the head.
July 21: An inmate repeatedly punched an officer in the face after giving him his medication.
July 24 – 28: Two officers injured after seven large inmate fights. Several inmates were cut with makeshift weapons.
September 24 – 26: Five officers were injured, three sent to the hospital for cuts and pain.
I asked Mr. Gold if he believes legislators that support HALT care about the well being of corrections officers. Here is his response.
“I don’t think they care at all. If they cared in the first place, they would’ve had a conversation and if they don’t care about us, they clearly are not gonna change something that makes it safer. Like I said, our members really believe will somebody need to be killed for change to happen? These guys say if someone died, they don’t think there’s going to be any change whatsoever. They think they’re just going to keep it status quo. They feel like no legislator that supported halt would even care if they died inside a prison right now.”
He also says the law limits inmate penalties for any attack.
“When inmates know that they’ve only got to do 15 days, you’re doing nothing. You could murder someone and only spend 15 days in a special housing unit and they know that there’s no negative ramifications for their bad behavior. So, why not assault an officer? Why not assault another inmate? You know, they get more credibility in prison by assaulting one of us than doing anything else,” said Gold.
The law doesn’t just impact officers, but inmates too.
“The everyday inmate that does nothing wrong is penalized worse has their program is being taken away from them because all other staff is being deployed to like your residential rehabilitation units and all other programs created with The HALT Act.”
Additionally, Elmira Correctional and other prisons statewide are facing a staffing crisis.
This in part due to mandatory overtime policies.
“When we say facilities are short, we’re not talking one or two officers. We’re talking dozens. Members are leaving in droves. Mandates are through the roof. Mandatory overtime meaning they work their eight hours and they’re stuck. People are, especially at this prison, they’re going three, four days in a row where they go home for eight hours and they’ve got to be right back. Mandated. They’re doing 16 hour days every single day,” Gold said.
Prison closures have only made it worse.
“Members used to stick around and work past their twenty five years. It detracts people from coming in because they don’t know if they’re ever going to make it home. So, instead of going across the state, thinking you’re going to make it back to Southport, these members not from around here aren’t gonna take the job because they don’t know if they’ll ever make it back.”