Tough Times for NY Department of Corrections

It’s not every day that you read or hear news about the New York Department of Corrections. But over the past several months, there has been no shortage of stories on the DOC, most of them negative. And the stories don’t stop with the DOC; they extend to the head of the correction officers union.

As we all know, the report of an allegation in the news doesn’t mean that anyone is guilty of anything. Nevertheless, with one story on top of another, public confidence in an organization can easily be shaken. Here’s what we’ve been seeing at Rikers Island over the past couple of years:

  • A correction officer set off a metal detector by bringing a knife into the Anna M. Kross Center at Rikers Island. He was later found to have brought other knives into the facility, including one found in his locker.
  • Another corrections officer was charged with trying to smuggle drugs (synthetic marijuana) and scalpel blades into the Rikers jail.
  • A female corrections officer was charged with rape and smuggling drugs into the facility.
  • A corrections officer was indicted on charges of official misconduct and falsifying business records in connection with the death of an inmate at the facility.
  • Two officers were indicted on charges that they organized an assault on an inmate. They were also charged with falsifying reports regarding the incident.

In January, correction union boss Norman Seabrook was taken to task for comments he made before a forum of inmate advocates. He was asked how he deals with officers who don’t abide by the rules. Seabrook reportedly told the group that he encourages officers to follow the rules so they don’t have to lie to cover up their actions. Quite a strange statement, when you think about it.

Any of these events, taken alone, is not particularly noteworthy. But collectively, they may indicate a more serious problem. In fact, an undercover operation that began in 2014 has led to dozens corrections officers being arrested for offenses at Rikers. This is in addition to the offenses charged outside the prison. Those additional arrests include drunk driving, possession of stolen property, and more.

As we said, these are just allegations. On the other hand, we have what appear to be a large number of CO arrests directly related to the individuals’ work at the jail. We also have Seabrook’s statement that the reason CO’s shouldn’t break the rules is to avoid having to lie (as opposed to doing the right thing, etc.). All in all, you may come away with a sense that things are not what they should be at the NY DOC.

George Vomvolakis Law Offices
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New York, NY 10016
(212) 682-0700

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