‘We’re in a staffing crisis’ at state prisons, says union

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 4:34 PM EDT
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TOWN OF CAPE VINCENT, New York (WWNY) - The ongoing labor shortage has hit state prisons, forcing certain facilities to temporarily close inmate housing units.

One of them is Cape Vincent Correctional Facility.

“We’re in a staffing crisis right now,” said Bryan Hluska, New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association.

NYSCOPBA, the union representing corrections officers, says officers are retiring, or resigning in record numbers leading to understaffed prisons becoming more violent.

“Anybody working - I mean with the right mind - can’t with a good conscience say, yeah, you should take this job,” said Hluska.

State data show that the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision hired more than 17,400 staff members last year. That is 6% fewer than in 2020.

Meanwhile, the population of those behind bars dropped nearly 11% between 2020 and 2021.

Hluska points to the HALT legislation for causing the exodus of workers. HALT limits how much time violent inmates can spend in special housing units to 15 days.

State data reveals that there have been 558 assaults on corrections officers through the end of May - a pace that’s about 13% higher than last year.

Hluska says the limited staff has led to Cape Vincent and Mohawk Correctional Facility in Rome temporarily closing 2 of its dorms earlier this month.

“Some jails are down 20 officers to 30, 40 officers,” said Hluska.

He says the short staff has led to a lot of overtime hours for current COs and that’s taking a toll on officers’ morale.

State Senator Patty Ritchie says she wasn’t aware Cape Vincent closed two of its housing units but says she is not surprised by the uptick in violence since HALT went into effect earlier this year.

“They can actually commit an assault on an officer and not be penalized to the extent that they have been in the past, or they should be,” said Ritchie (R. - 48th District).

Senator Ritchie says more drugs have been coming into prisons too, contributing to violence against staff members and other inmates.

In a statement, DOCCS officials said, “There are no facility closures contemplated this fiscal year,” but admitted they have “consolidated some housing units where appropriate” due to the declining population.

They go on to say that DOCCS “is experiencing challenges in its recruiting of security staff. However, the Department has been able to maintain a ratio of 1 security staff for every 1.8 incarcerated individuals, among the best ratios in the country.”

We asked Hluska what the situation might look like a year from now if they continue down this path and he gave a pretty grim outlook saying, “I can only imagine it’s not going to be good. We can’t stay on this road for much longer. The system just can’t sustain like this.”

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