PLATTSBURGH — Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Plattsburgh) continues to push for an end to double-bunking in medium-security state correctional facility dormitories.
The 20-year former correction officer recently put forth a bill he has introduced in previous sessions that would end the practice.
"This will create a better atmosphere in our facilities," he told The Press-Republican Wednesday.
"Our correction officers and our staff in those facilities have a hard enough job as it is, so we should do whatever we can to make these facilities more safe and more secure for the men and women that work in them."
DECREASE IN POPULATION
According to a press release from Jones' office, current regulations allow for the housing of up to 60 inmates in a medium-security dorm, with 10 living in double-bunked cubicles designed for one inmate.
Though this move was necessitated by a spike in the inmate population in the late 1980s and early 1990s, most low-level offenders have been released since the reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Law went into effect, the release continued.
The state has yet to adjust its policies in response to the resulting decline in that population.
Jones said the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has talked about right-sizing correctional facilities.
"Well, let's right-size them and let's take down these double bunks.
We're telling two grown men they have to live in an area that is the size of a parking spot and it just creates problems and issues for our correction officers and the people that work in the facilities."
During a press conference in Albany, Jones and New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Michael B. Powers highlighted a recent DOCCS report that shows rising incidents of violence in the prisons over the past few years.
In a statement, Powers said that is happening needlessly and that 2019 saw the highest levels of violence and contraband ever recorded.
"If the trends continue, 2020 is shaping up to be even worse. Double-bunking inmates in a space built for one person is not the answer to reversing these trends."
Space is available to spread out the inmate population and provide a safer environment for both staff and inmates, Powers continued.
"Rather than close prisons and force inmates into less space, the state should take the initiative and remove the double bunks and right-size the system that way."
Powers additionally questioned those who repeatedly raise concerns about inmate treatment, but have not taken the steps "to ensure that those individuals are housed in a humane setting — a living quarters designed for one person and not two."
"I’m more focused … on the safety of the facility and the safety of the hardworking men and women that work in these facilities: civilian, medical and security staff," Jones said.
"But certainly the argument for inmate safety can be made as well."
The 115th Assembly District, which Jones represents, encompasses three medium-security prisons: Altona Correctional Facility, Franklin Correctional Facility and Bare Hill Correctional Facility.
Jones' bill is currently in the Assembly Corrections Committee and has several co-sponsors — both Democrats and Republicans — including Corrections Committee Chair David Weprin (D-Queens).
State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx) has introduced companion legislation in the State Senate.
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