Clinton Correctional Facility

Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, Clinton County.

DANNEMORA — Clinton Correctional Facility was placed under full lockdown Wednesday following a fight involving two dozen men incarcerated in the maximum-security prison, union officials said.

State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association leaders received an email alerting them the male prison was under lockdown after 2:30 p.m. The prison remained under lockdown as of press time Wednesday night.

Union officials were not immediately told if incarcerated people or prison staffers were injured in the incident.

It was unclear if weapons were used in the fight, or how the violence was dispersed.

“As a result of multiple incidents involving incarcerated individuals engaging in violence against each other, out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to de-escalate the tension in the facility following the incidents, DOCCS Acting Commissioner [Anthony] Annucci, has authorized the lockdown and full facility search for contraband in the Clinton Correctional Facility,” DOCCS officials said in a statement Wednesday. “At the same time, the department has an ongoing investigation into the incidents which led to the lockdown.”

The department did not answer multiple questions about the number of injuries or related necessary medical treatment of the incarcerated population or correction staff, the number of incarcerated people or officers involved in the prison’s ongoing violent incidents or if weapons were used during the fight.

“The department has no further comment while the lockdown and investigation are underway,” officials replied when pressed for additional information.

Department officials would not say other details about the nature or reason behind the violence.

Men incarcerated at the facility will not be moved for the duration of the lockdown while officials search and investigate each housing unit and imprisoned person, typically resulting in the seizing of drugs, cellphones, weapons and other contraband.

Several state Department of Corrections and Correctional Supervision Community Emergency Response Teams arrived at Clinton Correctional to help maintain control of the prison and conduct the investigation to end the lockdown. Prison lockdowns can persist for days or weeks.

Incarcerated people can continue to receive normal visits from family and friends, legal visits with their attorneys, medical and mental health calls and three meals per day when a state correctional facility is placed under lockdown, department officials said. Phone use is restricted.

Wednesday’s violent incident is the latest in a string of fights among Clinton’s incarcerated population this week, union officials said.

The facility was under partial lockdown an unclear number of days before the department ordered full lockdown Wednesday afternoon, said Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake, who worked as a corrections officer for nearly 20 years.

Violent incidents occur in every state prison facility, but an altercation with dozens of people is uncommon, the assemblyman said.

“That’s a big fight,” Jones said. “Like I’ve said, when you have grown men living in close quarters, you will get fights, but a 24-man fight with (potential) weapons involved ... this is a rare occurrence in a facility.”

Meals are fed to the incarcerated population in their cells during lockdown, and no person can move within the facility.

“They’re calling in personnel to frisk cells,” the assemblyman said. “It takes a toll and is a lot of work when that happens, which is why they’re bringing in the CERT teams that are specialized in doing this. When a facility is on high alert, you want to bring in more personnel of that caliber.”

Bronx native Lisette N., who requested her last name not be published for fear of retaliation, regularly speaks with her brother who was transferred to Clinton Correctional Facility last month.

Her brother has been incarcerated for 39 years separately serving the minimum sentences of four charges after being convicted of second-degree murder, two robberies and criminal possession of a weapon when he was 16.

“I haven’t heard from him in days and that’s not common,” Lisette said.

An acquaintance of her brother’s with additional leadership and phone privileges called Lisette on his behalf Tuesday to explain the partial lockdown and that her brother was well.

Lisette asked the caller why the facility was locked down.

“You know how these people like to fight,” he replied.

DOCCS or facility staff do not contact family members or the emergency contacts of incarcerated people when a facility enters lockdown.

“I never know what happens,” Lisette said. “I never get calls from the facility — it’s always not knowing and fearing the worst. ... I’m grateful I got that call because the fact my brother has the resourcefulness to find someone to do him a favor gave me some peace of mind. At least I know he’s OK.”

The acquaintance who contacted Lisette did not mention tensions or ongoing violence in the prison before the lockdown. She did not know about Wednesday’s large fight inside Clinton Correctional.

“There are many times when the guards conveniently turn a blind eye to things that are happening right in front of them because they like to sit back and watch the show, and instigate the show,” she said. “There’s something about the toxicity about that environment that leads to violence.”

Lisette continues to be concerned about her brother’s safety while details remain scarce and the department investigates the ongoing violence.

“I really won’t have real peace of mind until I hear his voice on the other line,” she said. “Had I not gotten that call yesterday, I would be a lot more alarmed and nervous.”

Clinton Correctional was placed under lockdown in June after two violent incidents between men incarcerated at the facility.

DOCCS has not sent — and does not typically send — corresponding incident reports to NYSCOPBA, union officials said, adding they are often left in the dark about the details of a fight or assault in the incarcerated population.

DOCCS reports 1,067 assaults on staff and 991 assaults on the incarcerated as of the week ending Dec. 5 — a new record from 1,047 attacks in 2020, which marked a previous all-time high. The state reported 1,204 violent attacks between incarcerated people in 2020.

Assemblyman Jones will advocate for a public database and study to determine the catalyst for violent incidents in state facilities when session resumes in January, and reinstating a more robust, tiered disciplinary system for the incarcerated population.

“With the spike in violence we’ve seen in this past year ... that is a direct correlation on a lack of disciplinary procedures and a lack of order within a facility,” Jones said. “When you take those systems out of these facilities, you will see a rise in violence, and not only a rise in the attacks, but a rise in the viciousness on staff and other personnel within the facility.”

The total incarcerated population in state correctional facilities is 30,973 people as of Monday, representing a reduction of more than 12,700 people since Jan. 1, 2020 and the state’s lowest total incarcerated population since 1984, according to DOCCS.

“The correction officers are very quick to blame the incarcerated individuals, but I’d like to know what is happening in a facility that is fostering this type of environment? What is their effort to de-escalate?” Lisette said. “There are very few who are going to break the wall of silence. They’re going to look out for their own, and not the people who are subhuman to them.”

DOCCS, union and state officials and advocates have publicly been at odds for years over the reason for increased violence in state prisons.

“While the numbers are certainly upsetting, they are not surprising as our organization has been relentless in raising awareness on this issue for years,” NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said in a statement Wednesday. “For the number of attacks on staff to double over the past 10 years while the inmate population is at its lowest point since the early ’80s is appalling and is a direct result of the progressive policies implemented by the state. Given the recent admission by the department of these unprovoked attacks, we need the state to act now to protect staff before another officer suffers from this unrelenting violence.”

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