On Monday the New York State Inspector General issued a report detailing systemic breakdowns that led to the escape of two inmates from the Clinton Correctional facility in Northern New York. On Thursday, the Correctional Association of New York released a report detailing violence and abuse against inmates at the maximum security prison.
The Correctional Association of New York report “Voices From Clinton” alleges that a culture of violence and abuse against prisoners has existed at Clinton Correctional for years and escalated after last year’s escape by Richard Matt and David Sweat.
The criminal justice reform group is the only private organization allowed to inspect and report on the state’s prisons. Its report, using narratives from prisoners, documents brutality against inmates. One describes being repeatedly punched in the face, another reported multiple assaults including being grabbed by the neck and shoved onto a wall. Another described being suffocated during an interrogation and another claimed nurses refused to treat injuries.
Correctional Association of New York Director of the Prison Visiting Project Jack Beck said multiple trips were made to the prison to collect the stories. “What is disturbing is that there's been a pattern of abuse at Clinton that is very long standing. The line staff is really unaccountable particularly on the three to eleven shift and in the evening when supervisors are not there. They don't follow rules. They don't follow regulations and they use force and intimidation as a way to control the prison. It is a problematic facility and what makes it sustainable is that there is no transparency and accountability. When there's misdeeds by staff they're not held accountable. And that's what's really most disturbing about this.”
The NYS Inspector General’s office told WAMC it had no plans to respond to the new report other than to clarify that any prisoner reference to the IG in the Correctional Association report is actually the Department of Corrections’ OSI, or Office of Special Investigations, which investigates allegations of criminal activity and wrongdoing within the corrections department.
The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, or DOCCS, emailed its statement: “The Correctional Association of New York is an inmate advocacy organization with no hands on experience working in or managing a correctional facility. While the Department will review the report, this is not the first time that this Association has leveled accusations against the agency to serve its agenda.”
The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, NYSCOPBA, which represents corrections officers, issued a statement calling the research biased and focused on baseless accusations. “The truth is the prison climate has become extremely violent for those who work inside those concrete walls. Assaults on staff have increased by almost 60 % over the past five years statewide…..” The statement continues: “The Correctional Association conducted their research based on interviews with 75 inmates who couldn’t live within the rules of society. These are individuals who in many cases have committed violent, heinous acts and continue to do so while incarcerated. We are quite sure the public recognizes the same weaknesses in the research.”
Queensborough Community College Assistant Professor of History Jeff Hall, who has studied the prison’s history, says it’s important to be wary regarding the accounts of abuse. “It's I think important to approach accounts offered either by inmates or by administrators and officers with some suspicion, I guess you could say, because we don't have the type of independent evidence that could either prove or disprove the accounts of either side. Inmates make allegations but it's often hard to verify those claims because the unions exercise so much control over how the prisons operate.”
Hall adds that although Clinton Correctional was founded 160 years ago on reform principles, that soon fell by the wayside. “That reform impulse very quickly went away as the state's prisons became overcrowded. By the 1850’s and 1860’s there was a dungeon at Dannemora where prisoners would be effectively tortured even for minor infractions. They'd be hung upside down by their ankles. They'd be put in a device called a chair bath which mimics very closely what we know as waterboarding. The reports of abuse and violence inside Clinton really just become part of the narrative all the way up to the present.”