DANNEMORA — State correction officers continued their battle to have legislation they say makes their work place too dangerous repealed.
About 50 officers and family members stood outside Clinton Correctional Facility on Cook Street in Dannemora Wednesday afternoon calling attention to legislation known as HALT (Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act).
They wore bright yellow T-shirts with slogans emblazoned on them touting the dangers of HALT, which was put into place by the state legislature this past April 1. They held signs and encouraged passing motorists to honk for a show of support.
VIOLENCE ‘THROUGH THE ROOF’
The HALT Act limits long-term solitary confinement to 15 days while allowing solitary confinement to be served in traditional cells.
Members of New York State Correction Officers Police Benevolent Association, the union representing correction officers, say life inside the state’s prisons has become much more dangerous since HALT was enacted.
“It’s horrible,” Mike Powers, NYSCOPBA president, who joined his colleagues on the street in Dannemora, said about what life inside the prisons has become.
“Violence is through the roof. The percentage of violence since the HALT Act is going to exceed last year’s record numbers of assaults on staff, and inmate on inmate assaults. Both are through the roof.”
According to figures from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, overall violence up 34% in prisons (inmate on staff assaults up 37% and inmate on inmate up 30%).
Not only are the number of assault incidents up significantly, but the number of staff injured has dramatically increased as well, the union said, noting that besides being the target of an inmate-on-staff assault, staff can also be injured responding to an assault, whether it be coming to the aid of a fellow officer or intervening in an inmate-on-inmate assault.
Since HALT was enacted on April 1 to July 31, there have been 1,067 assault incidents, according to DOCCS figures. The number of staff injured was 938, and of those, 74 were categorized as moderate, serious or severe injuries.
In the four-month stretch prior to HALT going into effect, there were 828 assault incidents and 620 staff injured.
Over the same four-month stretch last year from April 1 to July 31, 2021, there were 717 assault incidents and 635 staff injured.
Powers said they are losing staff because many do not want to work under such dangerous conditions.
“We’re losing people to early resignations, and recruitment and retention is a big issue for us right now,” Powers said.
“We are working with the department and the governor’s office now to try to offset some of that, and we hope those conversations continue and we hope to get something out of that.”
HOPES FOR FULL REPEAL
The union has been voicing their opposition to HALT for months. Wednesday’s rally in Dannemora was one of five held at prisons across the state to raise awareness of the topic.
State Sen. Dan Stec (R-Queensbury) who also joined officers in Dannemora Wednesday, said he believes DOCCS is realizing that HALT might not be having the effect they thought it would. He is hopeful that some changes can be made.
“I know that there are conversations that are starting to happen right now about making changes,” Stec said.
“I would like to see a full repeal and start over, but I think the second floor (DOCCS) is starting to realize that it’s necessary.”
Assemblyman Matt Simpson (R-Horicon) has introduced a bill to eliminate HALT. He, too, joined the rally in Dannmora.
“It’s undeniable that there has been an increases in instances of violence in these prisons since then,” Simpson said.
Simpson said that when the bill was presented earlier this year, it was not done so in a factual manner or in a way that represents what life is really like inside a prison.
“I’ve toured these prisons and I’ve seen and talked to a lot of correction officers and I have a good understanding about what is going on, and it is all about safety for the CO’s and everybody in the prisons,” he said.
Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake), a former correction officer, also was at the Dannemora rally.
Jones said he voted against HALT and has been pushing to have it repealed because he knew concerns about escalating violence in prisons could become a reality.
“I have been in consistent contact with the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association about this rise in both inmate-on staff- and inmate-on-inmate assaults, and it is beyond frustrating with the lack of action by New York state to address this,” he said.
“Any inmate that is a perpetrator of an assault needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, and there needs to be effective deterrents to keeps these assaults from happening in the first place. Correctional officers and staff deserve a safe working environment, without the constant threat of being attacked.”