Union calls for prison lockdown

NYSCOPBA is calling for a lockdown at Greene Correctional Facility. Lance Wheeler/For Columbia-Greene Media

COXSACKIE — The New York State Correctional Officer and Police Benevolent Association is calling for a lockdown at Greene Correctional Facility, citing an uptick in contraband.

Security measures at the state prison have been lax during the pandemic, NYSCOPBA Mid-Hudson Vice President Chris Moreau said.

In November, seven cellphones and 17 makeshift weapons including weapons of the ice pick variety and two Sawzall blades were recovered.

Corrections officers also found synthetic marijuana, homemade alcohol and vials of septocaine, a local anesthetic often used in dental procedures.

“With the pandemic, the frisking, the security aspects have become a little more lax as we try to keep distance between staff and inmates,” Moreau said. “Unfortunately, that comes at the detriment of security. It’s become quite apparent the facility is absolutely littered with contraband.”

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has not granted the union’s requests for a lockdown, Moreau said.

“Typically during lockdowns, you cease inmate movement for however long it takes to go through the facility, housing unit by housing unit, and search the inmates themselves,” he said. “In the past, it has proven quite effective. You get quite the haul whether it be drugs, cellphones, whatnot. It’s a fruitful way of cleaning house. Trying to get [the lockdown] from DOCCS is like pulling teeth despite how successful they are.”

There is no reason to warrant a lockdown, DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey said.

“The safety and security of staff and the incarcerated population in our correctional facilities is a top priority for the department,” he said. “DOCCS staff, including its K-9 units, continue to be vigilant in searching for and finding drugs and other contraband and keeping it out of our facilities. The department continues its ongoing review of policies and procedures, as well as its strategic searches when appropriate. When someone is found introducing contraband we hold them accountable and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. At this time, there has been no significant event or trigger to warrant a lockdown of the facility.”

The number of assaults on staff and discovery of contraband for 2020 are below 2019 levels, Mailey said.

COVID-19 cases at the facility surged this fall and visitation was suspended in October following requests by NYSCOPBA and Greene County officials.

Greene County’s request to provide on-site testing to correctional staff was initially denied by DOCCS, but was ultimately granted six days later.

Positive cases stemming back to the prison arose in Greenville Central School and a Columbia County nursing home, Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said.

“If the correctional facility had let our public health department in there early on to test staff, we could have possibly avoided that,” Linger said in October, referring to the student case.

The union’s requests for a lockdown have been ongoing, Moreau said.

“For months we called on DOCCS administration to shut down all aspects of Greene Correctional and that fell on deaf ears,” Moreau said. “Only when COVID cases started to increase dramatically and Greene County health officials voiced their concern, did DOCCS take any proactive steps.”

The facility ranks second among state correctional facilities for having the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the inmate population. Fishkill Correctional Facility has reported 605 cases to date and Greene has reported 162, according to doccs.ny.gov. Greene Correctional did not have any active cases on Tuesday.

“The number of cellphones and weapons seized is alarming and causes serious safety and escape concerns, in our view,” Moreau said. “In addition, inmate-on-staff assaults continue. In November, four more officers were assaulted by inmates. It is difficult right now for staff being on the front lines of this pandemic. Coupled with DOCCS and their increasingly lax discipline for inmates, their propensity to turn a blind eye to dangerous situations continually puts staff at risk.”

The union advocates for a secure vendor program to be implemented, Moreau said.

“A large majority of the contraband comes through packages sent by inmate families,” Moreau said. “A secure vendor program allows families to order packages they would typically send but do it through a secure vendor.”

The vendor would not know the names of the inmates but would fill the order and send it to the facility where it would be distributed, Moreau said.

Other facilities across the state are seeing increases in contraband, Moreau said.

“Ulster has had a huge increase in drugs,” he said. “Green Haven, they are right behind Greene as far as dangerous contraband recovered. You’d be hard pressed to find a facility that hasn’t seen an uptick.”

A lack of discipline is also a factor, Moreau said.

“Unfortunately, DOCCS continues to implement more lax discipline,” he said. “There is no reprisal for their actions — it’s a perfect storm.”

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