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Another Voice: Prison workers also need a safe working environment

By Craig S. Downing

I read the editorial, “Humane approach: Easing of harsh discipline in prisons will be good for inmates and the state.” What about security and civilian staff? How is maintaining the security integrity of a prison and providing a safe working environment for staff better served by this?

The use of words like torture and punishments that are cruel and unusual may lead readers to draw an incorrect inference as to why prisons exist at all. As a deterrent, to rehabilitate, to punish or to remove violent predatory criminals from society? If the latter is so, how does the prison remove violent predatory inmates from prison society? What should be done with them?

For many years the Department of Correctional Services handled prison disciplinary matters internally, so as not to financially burden the localities with additional criminal prosecutions. This issue is nothing new; staff and union officials have always raised the serious issue of inmates committing crimes.

Several years ago, after failed attempts to mutually discuss and solve these matters at the prison level, the union took the task to the commissioner’s office and Directive 6910 – “Criminal Prosecution of Inmates” – was created. How is this working out? Let the county district attorneys and the juries decide the discipline and enlighten the public at large?

Not all solitary confinement is disciplinary in nature and corrections officers have no discretion to impose long sentences of solitary confinement, as the New York Times story indicates. The Times should have reported on how the inmates came to be placed in the special housing units (solitary confinement) and placed on deprivation diet (the loaf).

To opine that the correction officers union should accept an agreement that officers were not a part of is shortsighted. The unions advocate for the dedicated prison staff, as the New York Civil Liberties Union advocates for the convicted felons.

It can only be hoped that security and all prison staff and their unions will stand united and contact their local representatives in the State Assembly and Senate and members of the state legislative crimes and corrections committees and ask them how they weighed in on the agreement.

The editorial states, “Prisons are clearly necessary as a deterrent and a mechanism to protect the public from violent criminals.”

The irony here is what prison staff and their respective unions have been demanding for years; what deterrents and mechanisms are the state and the corrections agency utilizing to protect all prison staff from violent predatory criminals inside the walls and wire?

Craig S. Downing is a retired corrections sergeant who served at Attica, Southport and Wyoming correctional facilities.