A group of Republican state legislators called on New York City to bolster the ranks of corrections officers after years of attrition that have reduced the number of Department of Corrections employees by nearly 30%.
More than 4,000 officers have resigned or retired since 2019, but the city has not refilled the ranks, lawmakers said Tuesday.
“Many correctional officers don’t mind ending their careers and plan to retire early because they fear they won’t be able to return home to loved ones,” said Assemblyman Matt Simpson (R-Warren County). “New York is struggling to retain and recruit corrections officers, and it seems the only solutions being offered are further hampering their safety.”
Six Republican Assembly members, all from out of town, met with Correctional Officers’ Benevolent Association President Benny Boscio outside Rikers Island after a tour of the jails and a meeting with leaders of the Correctional Department.
About 100 officers resign and retire each month, Boscio said.
“We have lost about 30% of our workforce since 2019,” Boscio said. “No other municipal workforce has lost that number of workers in such a short time.”
“Our members are sick and tired of being scapegoated for problems we didn’t create, and they are disgusted with the left-wing elected officials on our City Council who have completely turned their backs on us.”
As of June 2020, the city employed 8,246 corrections officers, according to figures released by the state Comptroller’s Office. By August 2022, the number of officers had fallen to 6,114, a drop of about 26%, the second-highest vacancy rate by job title in city government, the comptroller’s office said.
Efforts by the Department of Corrections to recruit new classes of officers have failed, union figures show. The most recent academy class totaled 100 cadets when the agency was trying to fill 500 spots, the union says.
Boscio called for better recruitment and retention efforts, saying that the safest and best-run prisons require more officers.
The lawmakers, from four districts on Long Island and two in the north of the state, also called for tougher punishments for detainees who sexually assault female officers and a reversal of the HALT Act, which sharply limits the use of solitary confinement in jails and prisons.
“Since the implementation of HALT, we have seen a dramatic increase in violence within our correctional facilities,” said Assemblyman Philip Palmesano (R-Steuben County). “Stabbings alone have increased inside Rikers from 123 to 491 from 2020 to 2022.”
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Victor Pate, who spent time in solitary confinement in New York prisons and jails and is the co-director of the #HALTsolitary campaign, responded that solitary confinement breeds more violence in and out of jail.
“Countless of people had to suffer and die alone for lawmakers to finally act and enact HALT after nearly a decade of deliberation with all stakeholders,” Pate said.
The #HALTsoletarity campaign argues that chronic absenteeism by staff, including officers abusing the sick leave system, contributed to the 2021-22 crisis in prisons that included an increase in violence, a rise in prison deaths, jail, unstaffed posts, poor conditions and poor access to jail for detainees. services.
Jared Chausow, a spokesman for the HALT campaign, said Department of Corrections data shows that reported stabbings and slashings have increased since 2008, 14 years before the HALT Act went into effect.
The city’s prison population is just under 6,000, up from the pandemic low of around 4,500.
In January, about 10% of corrections officers were sick and 7% had medical restrictions from working with the detainee population, according to figures released by the city comptroller. Those percentages are substantially lower than in January 2022, when about 28% were sick and 9% had medical restrictions, the Comptroller’s office data shows.