Prison guards fight against layoffs

ALBANY – Hundreds of correction officers traveled to the Capitol yesterday to urge lawmakers to reject a plan by Gov. David Paterson to cut about 2,000 of their jobs.

Instead, officials of their union said, the department should cut administrators to save money.

 Its extremely disturbing to NYSCOPBA that those charged with developing plans to institute saving measures refuse to look in the mirror when making those decisions,” union President Donn Rowe told a group of Republican Assembly members, many of whom represent areas where prisons are located.



The union, the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, wants the department to slash some of the hundreds of administrative staff who work at the department’s headquarters in Albany and eliminate some of the 53 deputy commissioner jobs and other administrators at the state’s 70 prisons. The union says the salaries of the Albany workers alone amount to more than $56 million a year.



But the department has already cut administrative staff, spokesman Erik Kriss said – a reduction of 3 percent since April 1, 2008, that has saved $3 million. During the same period, the number of correction officer positions dipped just 2 percent, he said.



Newly hired correction officers are paid $43,867 a year after completing a probationary period. Those with 25 or more years of experience earn $65,183 annually.



Officers serving in the Hudson Valley and downstate get extra pay to help offset the higher cost of living, Kriss said.



Paterson has ordered a total of 8,700 job reductions, including 2,021 from the prison system. But nothing has been done yet to implement those cuts, ordered after other unions rejected a proposal to forgo a 3 percent pay raise April 1. The job cuts, which administration officials said would save about $450 million a year, were originally to take effect July 1.

“We’re still in the process of reviewing the work-force reduction plans,” said Budget Division spokesman Jeffrey Gordon. “We’re working to finalize them in the near future.”



The union leaders said the prisons are over capacity and need all existing officers to guarantee security.



“Despite these overcrowding conditions, the state still continues to cut correctional officer posts,” Rowe said, “posts which are much-needed to ensure the safety of correctional officers and inmates alike.” But Kriss said that when beds for patients who are ill or are segregated from the general prison population are counted, there are more than 7,000 empty beds, so the system has an occupancy rate of about 89 percent.



“The department’s success in running one of the nation’s safest state prison systems, which has been free of any major incidents for over 12 years, is attributable to the professionalism and hard work of both front-line officers and experienced administrators,” he said.



The department plans to close camps Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, Gabriels in Franklin County and Pharsalia in Chenango County by July 1. Annexes are also to be closed at Butler in Wayne County, Eastern (Ulster), Green Haven (Dutchess), Groveland (Livingston), Lakeview (Chautauqua), Sullivan (Sullivan) and Washington (Washington) correctional facilities by Oct. 1.



The number of inmates has declined from more than 71,000 a decade ago to under 60,000 now.



“State prisons have excess capacity for which state taxpayers have been paying more than $31 million per year to maintain, and that is an expense state taxpayers should no longer have to bear,” Kriss said.



The 13 Republicans to whom the union officials spoke were all supportive of saving the jobs. But there were no Democrats present, and they hold 109 of the 150 Assembly seats.



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