Part two; Protecting our Correction Officers

Some time ago, I wrote a post titled From Illinois to New York, Solutions for Understaffed Jails. The articles referenced in the post outlined the grave environment that jails have transformed into for inmates and correction officers. An unsafe work environment for Corrections Officers ultimately leads to poor conditions for inmates. Inmates have quick and easy access to all kinds of contraband, putting the lives of CO’s in danger. The story on such work environments has developed.

As of last year, according to COBA statistics, just about half of the stabbings & slashings at Rikers Island Department of Correction involved 18 to 21 year olds-64 out of a total of 125 for the year. This is also the same age group that has seen an end to Solitary Confinement on Rikers Island. The COBA Union and the President of COBA have been imploring the Department and the City to see what is happening to their Corrections Officers, calling the end to solitary confinement “open season on CO’s”. “We have since filed an improper practice petition against the City and the Department of Correction for violating our collective bargaining agreement when the Department unilaterally eliminated punitive segregation for 18-21 year old inmates.”, a quote in a newsletter this month from the COBA President, Elias Husamudeen. Another statistic-since January of this year, which isn’t even over, 620 NYC Correction Officers have been assaulted by inmates under 21. Husamudeen has urged for the removal of violent inmates with a repetitive history of assaulting COs to mental health facilities or another jurisdiction, one where solitary confinement is in place. The COBA President has also noted that, on the upside, a number of these repeat offenders have been rearrested. This process of rearresting repeat assailants is accompanied by other highly preventative measures, all in the name of protecting New York’s Boldest. He states that Corrections Officers need policy makers to act as quickly with CO’s as they do with police officers when it comes to punishing assailants. Their safety and protection against assaults is hindered by mandated triple-shifts, due to programs that require a staff size that is unavailable at Rikers.

The road to reform for our Correction Officers is long and winding, but must be traveled. All who protect us deserve the same from the system at hand.

From New York to Illinois, Solutions For Understaffed Jails

Teamsters Local 700 in Lake County, Illinois have stepped up for the areas overworked correctional officers. Too often are jails understaffed leaving their correctional officers working a recently mandated and regulated over time, putting themselves at more of a risk then they all ready do. Correctional officers also bear the weight of gender-specific duties. In a quote from the article from PRnewswire.com, “The female correctional officers are excessively impacted by the overtime regulation because of their specific assignments that only female officers can attend to.” This also applies in the case for male correctional officers. As much as this is a risk for the CO’s, its also a risk for the inmates-less officers on duty means a higher probability of something bad happening to either party, and both need to be protected.

This problem is also evident here in New York. At the beginning of this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio made a plan to spend more than $100 Million to improve the conditions of the Rikers Island NYC Department of Correction. This would be effective July of 2017. The push for funding was a response to a federal lawsuit that addressed violence in jails-which in turn means violence in working conditions for correctional officers, and violence in living conditions for inmates. Close to $60 million of the budget is being put to staffing the facility. It’s also not as if understaffing versus overcrowding isn’t an issue either. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and statistics do show that prisons and jails are overcrowded as well as they are understaffed.

Read the articles linked below for more information.

Union: State Prisons Dangerously Understaffed

Teamsters Local 700 Continues to Fight for Lake County Correctional Officers

Rikers Island Will Have More Officers Than Inmates Under Proposed Budget

Officers

Standing Firm

A New York State Correction Officer suffered severe injuries yesterday when a package, left at his home, exploded. Although it is mere presumption at this early juncture that this incident had anything to do with the officer’s job, the presumption begs the question “Who is protecting those that protect us?”
The bedrock of our society is our justice system, but our complex system of laws only allows our society to function because we have a system of enforcement in place to ensure that those laws are followed. We rely on Police Officers to capture those that break the law, Court Officers to oversee the non-violent trials of alleged offenders, Correction Officers to provide care, custody and control of those convicted of committing offenses and Parole Officers to ensure that the released offender remains compliant with our laws after their release from prison. The key word in each of those enforcement categories is “officer.” Without officers our system would quickly dissolve, as any deterrent to abhorrent acts would simply not exist. Based on this mere fact one would expect officers to be at the pantheon of occupational respectability. Yet, over the past several years officers’ status in common discourse has deteriorated so greatly that their once noble standing is now treated by many as slightly above those that they protect us against. Officers are not the enemy, but we have allowed a minority of incidents to overwhelm the true defining characteristics of the word. As this has happened we have slowly lost grip of our protection of our protectors; officers necessitate the potential wrath of the mass to truly wield their own sword. We have left them bruised, but it isn’t too late to circle round, nurse their wounds and restore their faith in our faith in them.
Ensuring that our civil liberties and human rights are upheld and recognized at all levels of the justice system is priority number one. What seems to be misplaced in the conversation, however, is that officers are the protectors of those liberties and rights, not the detractors. Some may question the societal and cultural awareness of this assertion and I tip my hat in recognition of the lack of perfection existing in our system, but I do not yield my time to this dissent. As we strive to a more representative body understanding of the vast differences in our populace, our current officers deserve no less recognition.
Attacks on officers, all officers, are on the rise. It does not take a sociological study to understand that criminals feel more brazen in their assaults on officers because of the diminishing status of the title. It is time for restoration, it is time for the public to stand with officers and give them the factual benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. It is time for the criminals to know that they have no safe haven with the ordinary man and woman, we place our trust in those that protect us daily from criminality.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “be sure to put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.” I place my feet alongside those of Officers and stand firmly with them because eventually, when no one protects those that protect us, there will be none willing to protect us anymore.

Problems for Correction Officers

jail prison cell and bars

New Appellate Case Raises Problems for NYC Correction Officers’ Disability Pensions

By: Sean Patrick Riordan, Esq.

Partner, McIntyre, Donohue, Accardi, Salmonson & Riordan, LLP.

Correction Officers have a tremendously dangerous job, each day confronted with the most hardened criminals in our justice system. Based on this danger New York’s governing bodies have put in place protections for Officers who become permanently disabled due to their job duties. Correction Officers in New York City, New York State and those in the County jails have ¾’s disability pensions available to them if they become permanently disabled from full duty resulting from an “act of an inmate.” A frequent question that arises in Correction Officer ¾’s cases is: What legally constitutes the “act of an inmate?” Over the course of the last year New York State and County Correction Officers have been able to procure good legal decisions solidifying their ¾’s rights. However, a recent decision in the New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division, Second Department has greatly challenged the rights of NYC Correction Officers ¾’s benefits.

It’s important to understand that two different appeals courts cover the two different pension systems, the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (“NYCERS”) and the New York State & Local Retirement System. When a City Correction Officer is forced to appeal a ¾’s denial such denial will be appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department (“2nd Department”). When a NYS/County Correction Officer appeals a ¾’s denial their appeal goes before the Appellate Division, Third Department (“3rd Department”). The two courts now have vastly different stances on what the “act of an inmate” is for ¾’s purposes.

The 3rd Department has considered the “act of an inmate” clause several times over the last decade. Initial decisions narrowed the clause to include only “direct interactions” between the inmate and the Officer. The Court further limited the act of an inmate to exclude “benign inmate chores” such as mopping etc. In doing so the court recognized the legislature’s intent behind the ¾’s bill was to protect Officers from the unique dangers presented in the prison/jail setting, not simple accidents that arise from some inmate responsibilities. As Officers and their attorneys began to worry that the “act of an inmate” clause would be so narrowly interpreted as to be almost meaningless, the 3rd Department issued its decision in Naughton v. DiNapoli finding that injuries that flow directly from the “unruly and combative” actions of an inmate are covered for ¾’s purposes. In DeMaio v. DiNapoli the 3rd Department importantly stated that “act of an inmate” does not have to be intentional, but instead that there is some affirmative act of an inmate that lead to an Officer’s injuries. The importance of this decision cannot be overstated as having to prove the inmates’ intent to hurt the officer would be extremely difficult in many cases. Further, such a reading of the statute would provide incentive for inmates to hide their intentions. This is now the problem faced by New York City Correction Officers.

The 2nd Department recently upheld the Brooklyn Supreme Court decision in Jones v. NYCERS. In Jones an Officer “suffered an injury to her shoulder and elbow when an inmate pulled a cell door which she was opening with the cell key.” On initial appeal the Brooklyn Supreme Court found that NYCERS did not act “arbitrarily or capriciously” in finding that the incident did not meet the standards of the “act of an inmate” clause. The ruling relied on the legislative intent behind the ¾’s bill without specifying why the inmate’s actions towards the Officer did not meet such intent. On appeal to the 2nd Department, the Court found NYCERS determination was not “arbitrary and capricious” and was based on “some credible evidence”, two legal standards that attorney’s face when bringing these appeal actions.

Under the 3rd Department’s standard it can clearly be argued that the incident in which Jones was injured constitutes an “act of an inmate.” There was a direct interaction between the inmate and Jones, and the inmate’s actions can be established as “unruly”, if not “combative”, as well. The 2nd Department’s decision now leaves us with the unenviable position of potentially having to prove an inmate’s intention to harm the officer with their actions, not a good position for New York City’s Boldest.

There is one potential savior, the 2nd Department did not address whether NYCERS interpretation of “act of an inmate” clause constitutes an “error of law.” In DeMaio, the court specifically found that the Retirement System committed error of law in its interpretation of the “act of an inmate” provision, unjustly placing an additional burden on the applicant of having to prove the intent of the inmate. If NYCERS now follows the Jones decision, we will be forced to challenge their interpretation of the “act of an inmate” clause as an error of law necessary of overturn. We will fight diligently to protect NYC’s Correction Officers ¾’s benefits.

To best combat this decision on a day-to-day basis, officers should be cognizant of specifically noting their direct interaction with the inmate that caused their injury. “Unruly” and “combative” behavior by the inmate should be specifically noted in the Injured Employee Report. For instance, in Jones, the NYCERS Board of Trustees noted that there may have been a different outcome if the “contemporaneous documentation” had noted that the inmate “intentionally” pulled the gate, rather than “accidentally” which was actually noted in the initial reports. Statements that help the reader capture the volitional, combative and/or violent nature of the interaction potentially help us on the ¾’s if needed later on. The general rule of thumb is do not assume the inmate’s intent, either good or bad, in your report, merely the factual circumstance that led to an injury.

If you have any questions regarding your ¾’s case, or an injury in general, don’t hesitate to contact me anytime at 212-612-3198.

 

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