Assaults on correction officers are up dramatically in recent years at the Elmira Correctional Facility, according to the union that represents officers at the prison.
State corrections officials have been unsympathetic to the plight of officers who are in jeopardy on a daily basis, according to the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, NYSCOPBA, which organized a picket across from the prison Monday to publicize their concerns.
The number of assaults on staff by inmates has increased 55 percent statewide since 2010, according to the union. At the same time, incidents of contraband being smuggled into state prisons has gone up 46 percent, the union said.
Despite the stark numbers, union representatives say the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision isn’t doing enough to ensure employee safety.
“We’re being treated more like we’re incarcerated than the ones who are incarcerated,” said Andrew Rice, chief union steward at the Elmira Correctional Facility. “Our management doesn’t have our backs. If management has your back, you’ll have a lot better workforce. It’s not just Elmira but statewide. Working conditions make our lives dangerous. At one point, some of us might not go home. That’s what this picket is all about.”
On March 9, a correction officer at the Elmira Correctional Facility was stabbed several times while breaking up an inmate fight, according to a union news release. His injuries were not considered life-threatening.
A week later, the prison was placed on lockdown for several days after an inmate was assaulted and stabbed by two other inmates, the union said. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision confirmed the lockdown.
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association represents 500 correction officers and sergeants at the Elmira Correctional Facility, Rice said. Civilian employees are represented by the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Federation, he said.
The union’s claim that the state has been unresponsive to its safety concerns is not true, said Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesman Tom Mailey.
The department has taken several proactive measures to ensure the safety of prison staff and inmates, Mailey said in an email.
“It is unfortunate that despite a recent indication by NYSCOPBA of its desire to work with the department in a collaborative manner, it has once again chosen the opposite tact,” Mailey said. “Far from NYSCOPBA’s constant public claims, the department has increased staffing by 103 correction officers, and just last week Gov. Cuomo highlighted the over $1 million spent to add new state-of-the-art technology called “Cellsense” that has already prevented contraband and dangerous weapons from being used inside our facilities.
“The hardworking men and women of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision deserve more from NYSCOPBA than this latest distortion of facts, and we will continue our open door policy to those willing to engage in constructive dialogue and move our department forward,” he said.
Numerous motorists honked horns in support of the correction officers as they drove past the picket line Monday.
Union officials said they hope the protest at the Elmira Correctional Facility leads to similar demonstrations at other state prisons.
“We want the public to understand the men and women who work behind these walls every day, and that they’re not getting the support (from the state) for what they do every day,” said Joe Miano, NYSCOPBA Western New York regional vice president. “What we’re saying is we want the state to support us, just as we support them every day by doing our jobs. Jails don’t close at 4 p.m. when the administration goes home. We’re here 24/7. (Officers) want the people they work for to support them.”