Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C-Corning) is once again renewing his urgent call for Gov. Hochul to repeal the HALT Act on the heels of a new report detailing the record-high increase of inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assaults in state prisons. At Elmira Correctional Facility alone, five correctional officers were injured in the first two weeks of January from inmate assaults.
According to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), inmate-on-staff assaults reached a record-high total of 1,469 in 2022, compared to 1,177 in 2021. That’s an increase of 24.8%, and a staggering 84% increase from the 799 inmate-on-staff assaults in 2017. DOCCS also reported a record-high level of inmate-on-inmate assaults of 1,488 in 2022, compared to 1,110 in 2021. This is a 34% increase over the past year and an 85.8% increase from the 801 assaults in 2017.
The HALT Act, which took effect in April 2021, subjects correctional officers and the entire prison population to increased violence because it dramatically limits and restricts the ability of correctional officers to segregate even the most violent and disruptive inmates from the general population by placing them in Special Housing Units (SHU).
“Gov. Hochul often claims that she governs by looking at the data. In this case the data is clear—violence is on the rise in prisons, and it continues to put our brave correctional officers at unnecessary risk, while the governor and the Majorities do nothing to help them,” said Palmesano. “Advocates of the HALT Act have claimed that Special Housing Units are ‘solitary confinement’ or ‘torture.’ That is simply false. Individuals who are put in Special Housing Units have significant staff contact, receive property, services and amenities. These individuals even have access to iPads, emails and phone calls—far from the picture HALT advocates try to portray.
“This governor’s prison closures, coupled with her continued embrace of HALT and the refusal to provide the necessary staffing, tools and resources needed to assist our brave and dedicated correctional officers, has created a dangerous, powder-keg environment inside our prisons. Not only have correctional officers been severely restricted in the use of this important tool to separate violent individuals, but they continue to be burnt out with mandated overtime and inefficient staffing levels, while being denied the proper resources to screen for drugs, such as the use of body scanners and drug dogs at every correctional facility to fight the contraband possession and use that continues to run rampant within facilities across the state. It is important to note that the increased contraband use is also contributing to the surge in violence.
“It is long past due for the governor and my Majority colleagues to stop rewarding violence and start protecting staff inside correctional facilities. Equally as important, it is long past due that the governor and my Majority colleagues to start putting the interests and safety of our correctional officers and other inmates in the general prison population over the interests of dangerous and violent murderers, cop killers and child rapists.
“Gov. Hochul likes to declare state emergencies. She did for COVID-19, monkeypox and guns. She should declare a state emergency inside our correctional facilities. She can then suspend the HALT Act while we continue to work to repeal it and hopefully make our correctional officers and staff safer.
“My Minority colleagues and I warned that the HALT Act would be unnecessary, costly and dangerous from the get-go. We were right. Please join me in calling on Gov. Hochul to repeal the HALT Act immediately to protect the brave men and women of law enforcement who work a dangerous job and are dedicated to keeping us safe,” concluded Palmesano.