Governor wants to strengthen disciplinary process for prison employees
Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the 30-day amendments to the Executive Budget proposal will include legislation that with strengthen the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s ability to discipline employees who have jeopardized the safety and security of their co-workers, inmates and parolees by committing serious acts of misconduct.
Not only will the bill grant the Commissioner the ability to terminate employees for crimes committed while executing official duties, but it will streamline Departmental procedures to prevent bad actors from being promoted or hired in the first place. This is the second consecutive year that the administration has pushed for changes to the Department’s disciplinary process.
“New York’s correction officers work day in and day out ensure the security of our communities,” Governor Cuomo said. “The current system, however, makes it difficult to hold bad actors fully accountable. The bottom line is that those who break the law and abuse their positions of power must be held responsible for their misconduct, and this proposal will help to ensure accountability and promote safety in the correctional system.”
Under the current process, anytime an employee is alleged to have committed a serious act of misconduct, the Department and the employee engage in an arbitration process which can sometimes be problematic and cumbersome. In these cases, an independent arbiter makes the final determination with regards to discipline.
Many times these decisions do not hold the employee fully accountable for their actions in the eyes of the Department or the general public. For example, a correction officer was once found to have used excessive force on an inmate in a wheel chair who had no use of his legs. The act resulted in a fractured eye socket and broken ribs. While the Department sought discipline and requested termination, the arbitrator found the employee not guilty and returned him to duty.
In order to strengthen the Department’s ability to hold bad actors accountable, this legislation grants the Commissioner a greater ability to discipline those who have been found to have committed acts of serious misconduct, similar to authority provided to other law enforcement agencies, including the New York State Police. Additionally, this legislation updates the Department’s hiring practices to ensure that individuals who do not meet strict criteria are not hired to begin with.
Specifically, the proposal:
• Strengthens Employee Disciplinary Process – Under the Governor’s proposal, the arbiter would issue a disciplinary recommendation, however the Commissioner would make the final determination in certain cases involving acts of serious misconduct.
These acts include:
• The excessive use of force;
• The false reporting regarding one or more acts of excessive use of force;
• The failure to report an excessive use of force occurrence;
• The use or possession of controlled substances;
• The introduction of controlled substances into a department facility;
• Or an inappropriate sexual relationship or contact with an inmate or a parolee.
• Strengthens and Streamlines Hiring – Along with removing duplicative language from the law which has complicated the hiring process, the legislation lays out the minimum requirements for being hired as a correction officer, institution safety officer, parole officer and warrant and transfer officer.
Additionally, the legislation states that no individual with a felony conviction may be hired and gives the Commissioner discretion regarding misdemeanor convictions and the moral character of applicants. Existing civil service employees who have been disciplined would also be removed from any promotional list they may currently be on.