New York Prisons Bill Would Make It Easier to Fire Abusive Guards

The New York state corrections department would gain the power to remove abusive guards from its prisons under a state senate bill filed on Monday.

Currently, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision does not have the ultimate authority to fire guards accused of serious misconduct and often must defer to third-party arbitrators who determine disciplinary outcomes. But the bill, filed by State Senator Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn Democrat, would give the commissioner the final say in such cases.

In a memo accompanying her bill, Ms. Salazar, the chairwoman of the Senate committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction, said she drafted the legislation in response to an investigation by The Marshall Project, published last year in collaboration with The New York Times. The investigation showed that New York’s prison department often tried but failed to fire correction officers accused of abuse or trying to conceal it. From the articles, Ms. Salazar wrote in the memo, “a stark picture emerged of a staff disciplinary system that is essentially completely broken and ineffective.”

Drawing on a previously secret state database obtained by The Marshall Project, the examination found that New York’s prison department tried to fire guards accused of abusing prisoners or trying to conceal abuse in more than 290 cases over 12 years — but succeeded in terminating only 10 percent of those officers.

The current disciplinary system “often works to allow corrections officers to commit grievous abuses with impunity,” Ms. Salazar said in a statement.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, the corrections department and the correctional officers’ union declined to discuss the legislation. Ms. Hochul and the union’s leaders are negotiating a new contract.

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