The union representing nearly 10,000 city Correction Officers has issued a scathing rebuttal to the most recent report by a Federal Monitor on the state of city jails, arguing that he and his team failed to properly assess conditions.
The Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association further maintains that the Monitor’s recommendations have exacerbated already-dangerous conditions inside the jails for Department of Correction employees and inmates.
Union: Replace Monitor
COBA’s June 10 response to the Monitor’s report, issued last month, contends that reforms called for by the Monitor and his team with regard to use of force, chemicals and tasers, as well as to escort procedures, body cameras and other aspects, are “all incredibly negative" and have led to increases in violence.
“Staff and inmate injuries have gone up. Officer discipline is at an all-time high. All resulting in working conditions so poor that Officers are resigning at unprecedented rates,” the rebuttal stated. “The reality is that the only people involved in NYC jails who might exceed DOC’s incompetence [are] the monitoring team themselves!”
It suggested that given a lack of “any significant progress” within the jails, the Monitor should be replaced.
The 17-page rebuttal, however, toggled between blaming the DOC for the system’s dysfunction and chastising the Monitor and his team for failing to fully ascertain and understand jail conditions, which the union and some city officials have said has grown more violent as the inmate population has thinned in recent years. The Monitor and his team, though, took the brunt of COBA's ire.
The rebuttal took particular issue with the most recent report’s contention that DOC staff was poorly deployed. The union was especially critical of the monitoring team’s assessment that the department was over-reliant on its Emergency Response Unit, which responds to all types of jail-based incidents, including disturbances.
The report stated that the teams often provoke incidents rather than quell them, a “particularly distressing” development “given that many of the underlying events do not appear to represent the kinds of threats that ESU was originally intended to address.” The union called that an absurd conclusion.
The monitoring team’s observations that “problems are precipitated, exacerbated, and catalyzed” by excessive manpower responses, even as the facility leadership and the DOC claim a shortage of officers, were characterized by COBA as “completely insane psychobabble.”
“Should the Monitor’s recommendations come to pass, it would risk the life of each individual CO, permanently compromise the safety in NYC jails and grant the inmates free reign to wreak havoc in every single facility,” the union said. “The Monitor places every CO in the crosshairs with this premise.”
Disagree on Staffing
While COBA, as well as DOC brass, has long called for the city to hire more Officers, the monitoring team found that the complement of officers, “particularly the number assigned to the jails,” ranked among the largest in terms of staffing ratios, notwithstanding the “unusually high number” of officers absent because of chronic illness, the coronavirus “and other reasons.”
COBA, though, said the Monitor failed to present a factual and detailed basis for its conclusion that the department was overstaffed, and instead cited just one instance of mismanagement. In its most recent report, however, the monitoring team pointed to “thousands of incidents” it had reviewed to make a determination that “problems are precipitated, exacerbated, and catalyzed by the number of Staff who are present at the scene.”
Still, the union contended that the Monitor lacks “a realistic view,” and later said that he “intentionally omit[s] crucial details” to present “a slanted and biased point of view only."
“Any reasonable person would understand that the current surge in crime, violent crime and shootings across New York City has a drastic impact on conditions inside NYC jails,” it noted. “While the Monitor’s job is to effectuate change and make the jails safer, the monitoring team fails to recognize that uniformed Staff also need to be kept safe.”
'Monitor Just Blasts'
The union’s rebuttal also charged that the Monitor, Steve Martin, a corrections expert with about 45 years of experience, and a small team of lawyers and researchers from the city-based Tillid Group, have a financial incentive to continue issuing slanted reports. “The Monitor just blasts DOC every 6 months and the city pays the Tillid Group to do it again the next 6 months,” the union wrote.
Tillid’s president and its executive director did not respond to emails.
The Monitor was put in place following a consent judgment that arose as a result of a 2011 class-action suit on behalf of current and future inmates in city jails alleging the DOC had engaged in a pattern of unnecessary and excessive use of force.
The reports, which are issued every six months, have noted that the DOC has made progress, however incremental, in implementing some of the reform initiatives required by the consent decree, which went into effect in 2015. But the most recent assessment, covering the last half of 2020, noted that uses of force by officers remained an intractable problem, with the rate of incidents steadily rising each year and, in 2020, climbing to its highest level since 2016. It found that the use-of-force rate had climbed 183 percent since then.
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