Picketers recently gathered outside the Auburn Correctional Facility hoping to bring attention to the risks that some officers face inside. Joe Miano with the New York State Corrections Officer and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA), a prison guard union, says it can be treacherous.
"Back in July, they actually had an officer who was assaulted so severely he was knocked unconscious and suffered a broken jaw," Miano said.
There have been more lockdowns at the maximum-security prison over the past 2.5 years than at any other state facility. Miano says that's because staff there are dealing with some of the most violent prisoners in the history of the state. And while NYSCOPBA is always concerned about adequate staffing levels, he says New York officials are not making their job any easier.
"One of our biggest concerns right now is the inmate disciplinary system," Miano said. "The inmate disciplinary system has been weakened due to an agreement with the New York Civil Liberties Union and New York state, and what that did it it changed a lot of the punishment that inmates get for creating incidents within the facility."
The intent of that 2015 settlement was to make the corrections system more humane, but Miano and State Sen. Pam Helming (R-Canandaigua) say it jeopardizes safety.
"I’m concerned for our corrections officers and the overall staff in our prison system with these hardened criminals and the flexibilities and the privileges that they are being given," Helming said.
On a recent tour of the prison, Helming said she was concerned to see a more rigorous screening for what the guards bring into Auburn than the inmate's visitors. And she said she was surprised to see that prisoners are allowed to wear pedestrian clothing that their friends and relatives bring them, as opposed to wearing a uniform. Also concerning, Helming said, is the cuts to correctional staff over the years.
"In some instances, there just isn’t the correct staffing," Helming said. "Does that mean we need to add more staff? Possibly. Does that mean we need to restructure the way some of these prisons are set up? Possibly."
Since February of 2015, there have been seven lockdowns at Auburn. But Thomas Mailey, a spokesperson with the New York Department of Corrections, says in the same time, the number of assaults on Auburn's staff have decreased by 52 percent and the number of staff members at the prison have increased by 26.
"The number of assaults on Auburn facility staff, use of force incidents, and staff injuries during uses of force have all decreased dramatically over the past two years," Mailey said. "These declines can be attributed to the hard working staff at Auburn, as well as key investments in additional security staffing, technology and training."