Tompkins County
New York

Report or Discussion Item

Corrections Officers Issues and Concerns


Department:Sheriff's DepartmentSponsors:
Category:Public SafetyFunctions:Personnel


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Meeting History

May 18, 2017 3:30 PM  Public Safety Committee Regular Meeting

Sgt. Shawn Hogan introduced himself and Corrections Officer Matthew Haney of the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Department, Corrections Division. Sgt. Hogan read and submitted the following statement:

“Thank you for taking the time to listen to a few of our concerns.

“I have seen many changes in my 18 ½ year career in Corrections. I have 8½ years as a New York State Corrections Officer and 10 years here at the Tompkins County jail, seven of those as a Corrections Sergeant.

“Our Corrections Team consists of 41 officers, six of which are Corrections Sergeants. I would like to introduce to you my corrections brothers and sisters by giving you a copy of our staff list with seniority dates next to their names. Many of them are here tonight, some in uniform, and some not.

“I recently read a very fitting and accurate article in Corrections One Magazine, it read "Historically, Corrections Officers have been viewed as guards, hacs, turnkeys, jailors, occupying isolated and misunderstood positions in prisons and jails. Within the past decade, the duties of the Corrections Officers have become increasingly complex and demanding. They are called upon to simultaneously fill supervisor roles, safety and security, custodial and counseling roles. The professionalism, dedication, and courage exhibited by these officers throughout the performance of these demanding and often conflicting roles deserve the utmost respect. The important work of a Corrections Officer often does not receive the recognition from the public that it deserves. The service that they provide is vital to creating and maintaining safe communities."

“Corrections Officers are the unseen Law Enforcement. If the public could experience the Corrections Officer’s world, unrestricted from the dangers that wait, they would see firsthand that corrections have evolved. It is a noble and honest law enforcement profession.

“Presently we are housing 67 inmates at the Tompkins County Jail. Their crimes range in severity from the simplest of crimes to some of the most violent crimes including sex offences, rape, and murder. We consistently have people incarcerated who are detoxing off of drug and alcohol, searching to fill that void and willing to do anything to take away their pain, which brings up the issue of contraband. We are constantly on the front lines fighting the admission of illegal drugs into our facility; through visiting, mail, and any other mode of admission. Now add the negative environment, usually over-crowded, outdated, double bunked jail that is constantly breaking down. Just recently we had three broken main doors at the same time; one of those doors was our main entrance door causing the facility to shut down visiting, which is unfair to the inmates and their visitors. The other doors were the holding cell door and the rec yard door. The holding cell door was looked at by a representative that manufactured the door and stated "we don't even make these parts anymore." The rec yard door which is an emergency exit has been broken for almost a month. We definitely keep facilities busy trying to fix our building just with the plumbing and electrical issues alone.

“We play a role in assessing and taking care of all medical and mental health problems. Many of which have medical, mental health, and substance abuse problems occurring together, which makes a dangerous and toxic mix. When someone arrives to the jail, they are already not in their right state of mind, and we must protect them and ourselves with our IPC skills (interpersonal communication skills), and the equipment on our duty belt…handcuffs, jail keys, a radio, flashlight and rubber gloves. Supervisors also carry pepper spray.

“We are trained and retrained annually on suicide prevention and play a vital role in the safety of these inmates. We are the ones to intervene when an inmate threatens or makes an attempt to self-harm. We are the first one to respond to any situation within the jail and are the ones who talk inmates through their crisis. I have been there when an Officer found an inmate hanging from his bed sheet, lifted him to release the pressure from his neck while another Officer cut the inmate down, I watched an Officer apply pressure to the bleeding wound after an inmate had cut his own wrists. There have also been situations where the Officers recognized an inmate having a stroke and got EMS there within minutes, and when an inmate stopped breathing, the Officers recognized it and initiated rescue breathing and used the AED. In all of these situations the inmates survived because we were there and did what we were trained to do. We also have to recognize the emotional toll it takes on the Officer to see these things happen to people, not just these emergent situations but watching the same people who are addicted to drugs and who suffer from mental illness, continually come in and out of the jail, not getting the help they need and watch them fall through the cracks.

“Tompkins County does not have 24 hour or even 7 day a week medical staff. Our ONE nurse does an amazing job. Works 40 hours a week, but that leaves 16 hours a day and 2 full days a week when there is no medical staff on site. The majority of the medication is dispensed by Officers, which holds a huge margin for error and liability for the Officers and this County. In State Corrections, Officers handling medications is forbidden. Mental Health is almost nonexistent, even though there has been recent approval to increase mental health hours at the jail, this still leaves large gaps of time where the Officers have to fill in the place of medical and mental health professionals. Please notice I didn't mention substance abuse counseling because outside of volunteer groups such as AA & NA, there is no substance abuse counseling at the jail. It is not uncommon for the help you are trying to give an inmate is unwelcome. In some cases we are the enemy and we are the ones that are physically assaulted. The media only publishes negative things about Corrections Officers, none of the good we do.

“Being a Corrections Officer is both very physically and emotionally demanding. It takes a substantial amount of over time to operate our facility. In 2016, $243,000 was spent in just over-time pay. Officers are constantly forced to work extra hours. Sixteen hour days are not uncommon. Depending on circumstances an Officer can be mandated to work 8-40 hours of overtime in a single week. This puts severe strain on the Corrections Staff. To accomplish our mission safely and to the public's expectation, we need more full-time Corrections Officers. We have not had a staffing analysis completed in 15 years (since 2002), even though it has been requested many times. With these forced overtime hours come the hardships of missing quality family time, missing holidays, birthdays, and many other cherished memories. Our duties are not limited to only run the jail, but also include inmate transport for medical appointments, mental health, rehabilitation, and court appearances. I would like to invite those of you who have never been to the jail to come for a tour, stay for a while or even observe a shift.

“In the past two years we have seen 27 new hires, 10 in 2015, 13 in 2016, and 4 so far this year-2017. Each new hire is assigned a field training officer for an intense 3-4 weeks of on the job training, then an additional 9 weeks at Corrections Academy. The Officer's spot is back filled with overtime. This rate of turnover has cost the County many thousands of dollars in officer staffing alone. This loss of good, well-trained officers ends up benefiting other agencies because they transfer out for better pay and benefits. When I came to the Tompkins County Jail in 2007, the pay rate was incomparable. During the past 10 years the pay has not been able to keep up with our surrounding counties and we no longer can compete with them to retain or transfer in competent, well-trained officers. Shortly thereafter our pay began to stagnate. Other counties were making strides in bringing their facilities up to date and brought their Officers’ pay up along with it. Tompkins County Corrections Officers pay fell further and further behind. We have tried several times to negotiate a pay increase to entice officers to stay at the Tompkins County Jail without success. In an attempt to get better pay for our career Officers, in 2012 we proposed and negotiated a step system that would give career Corrections Officers more and save the County money by reducing turnover. We had hoped we could build from this, but that was not the case. Tompkins County must upgrade and expand the Public Safety Building and pay what other surrounding counties know is a reasonable rate of pay. The starting rate of a Corrections Officers is $35,484.80/$17.06 an hour, which is only $2 more an hour than the proposed minimum wage. This means there is no incentive for a new officer to stay with Tompkins County, after they compare what they get to what surrounding counties make.

“A prime example of income in-equality just within the Sheriff’s Department is the Road Division's salaries VS the Corrections Officer’s salaries. The hire rate for a Road Deputy is $28.80 per hour vs. a Corrections Officer hire rate of $17.06 per hour. The difference is $11.74 per hour. That's a difference of $15,787.20 per year. A Road Sgt. hire rate is $34.84 per hour vs. a Corrections Sgt. hire rate at $25.57 per hour ... That's a difference of $15,038.40 per year. The Sgt. of the Road Division has 7 salary steps and a Corrections Supervisor does not have any salary steps. Even the jail cook has salary steps. A Road Sgt. at step 7 makes $38.46 per hour - work rate for a Corrections Sgt. is $27.61 per hour. That's a difference of $10.85 per hr. That's a difference of $22,568 per year. A new Road Deputy with zero experience makes more than a Correction Sgt. with 25 years on the job. The Captain of the Corrections Division makes $86,902.40 per year. That's $29,473.60 more than the Correction Supervisors. To save the County money, the administration decided to eliminate the top two positions in the Correction Supervisors - the Chief and the Lieutenant and create one position - A Corrections Captain. Most of the Lieutenants work got pushed down to the Sergeants.

“In closing, I respectfully ask that you seriously consider what we are asking so we all can accomplish the same mission, the same goals, and the same vision safely together. Upgrades to the jail, better wages for the Corrections Officers, more full-time officers (staffing assessment), another nurse, and better mental health services. Our community needs this to happen...

“Even though Corrections Officers may stand unrecognized by those who remain outside, we still do our mission by our sworn duty to protect and serve with Honor, Pride, and Integrity.”

Mr. John thanked them for coming in to speak with the Committee and noted the Committee is constrained in what it can discuss during a period when contract negotiations are taking place. Mr. John asked what a staffing analysis would do. Sgt. Hogan said it would look at the Jail, manpower, how many Corrections staff there is, and all numbers to see if more staffing is needed. Further, he said if the structure for overtime falls to the newest Corrections Officers this may be a factor in the turnover because they get overworked and burn out quickly. Sgt. Hogan said that is an issue but because a lot of other Officers "step-up" that is often a big part of the problem. Mr. John said one of the recommendations the Jail Study Committee received from a local judge was to have an involuntary detox that courts could sentence to would help dramatically from the standpoint of putting people in jail who are really there because there is no other place to put them and there is a fear for their safety. He asked how many people Sgt. Hogan felt are coming into the Jail and are in need of detox. Mr. Haney said people come to jail because they broke the law; he estimated half of the population are in need of detox or are there for drug-related charges. Detoxing is constantly happening at the Jail.

Mr. John said those who have been attending the Jail Study Committee meetings have heard one repeated theme from people is that the Corrections Officers are doing a very good job. A key element of the Jail Study Committee is looking at whether beds need to be added to the Jail and at this time a hard look is being taken at all of the alternatives-to-incarceration program. He said it is clear to him that a capital project is needed to do some re-planning and re-purposing of the facility that may include some expansion of the facility regardless of whether that includes adding beds. He asked the Officers what they felt would be a priority and most necessary.

Sgt. Hogan said the facility needs to be expanded and stated the additional seven beds that were added was a positive step; however, double-bunking and dorm beds do not work for a lot individuals and there needs to be classification cells.

Mr. Stein said the presentation by Sgt. Hogan was very good although he was aware of many of the issues he mentioned and the one thing he found the most interesting was his comments about when a new employee is hired and trained and then ends up going to work elsewhere for someone else. He suggested that the Legislature be given data on this and Sgt. Hogan agreed to provide that information.

Ms. Kelles thanked Sgt. Hogan and Mr. Haney for the presentation. She said the Legislature is trying to explore how to coordinate all of the services that exist and successfully reduce the jail population but haven't ever been able to deter the pathway of people who have drug-related charges, recognizing that also involved are major community-wide issues such as low income, housing, and education. She said it could potentially be possible to substantially reduce the population if the amount of people who are in the jail are there because of drug-related issues. Ms. Kelles asked if the County could significantly reduce the number of people who are in the Jail because of drug or cultural issues if it would provide enough space to focus on the medical facilities, kitchen, program space, and leave a number of cells where they are now.

Sgt. Hogan briefly explained the limits on housing due to the classification system that results in the number of beds that can be filled to be approximately 20% less than the allowed capacity. He said if individuals with the substance abuse issues were removed from the Jail the serious structural issues of the Jail would need to be addressed.

Ms. Robertson thanked the Corrections staff for coming to speak to the Committee and said she would be interested in seeing salary scales of other counties, knowing more about staff turnover, and the staffing analysis that was done in 2002 by the Commission of Correction. She said there is an understanding that the building needs basic maintenance. One thing that has been discussed is moving the Civil side out of the building and would appreciate hearing more about what that would look like that would also include input from Correction staff.

Mr. John said the County is waiting for the results of the CGR study but understands there is a significant investment that needs to be made in the facility and input from the Corrections staff would be needed in that process.

Mr. Dennis expressed concern about people leaving employment as a Corrections Officer in Tompkins County for a better situation elsewhere and would like to look at this further. He said as the County moves forward in the budget process and the Jail study process there are serious issues related to the building that need to be looked at.

Mr. John spoke of the low Jail population at the present time and asked for Sgt. Hogan’s comments on this. Sgt. Hogan said since the Jail Study started the number of inmates at the Jail has gone down significantly. Mr. Haney recalled three previous studies and stated during each study the numbers go down significantly, however, once the study is complete they go back up.

Mr. John asked for comments on the time and effort required by Corrections staff when someone comes into the Jail who has a detox issue versus someone who doesn't. Mr. Haney said in most counties when someone enters the Jail and is detoxing, they receive constant supervision and although there is additional supervision there is not enough staffing for constant supervision.

Ms. Robertson said the trend has been down since the end of 2015 and stated there has been two policy changes since the Commission of Corrections pulled the variances last year that have made a difference: assigned counsel at first arraignment and the District Attorney doing presumptive ROR versus going to the jail. She said a balance has been found where public safety is served well and responsibly and fewer people are ending up in the Jail.

Ms. Kelles spoke of trends since the 1980’s and said even though the number of people arrested has grown the Jail population has stayed the same. She said why people are in the Jail is changing and the number of people who are there for drug-related charges represents a large number of people and she sees this as the “lowest hanging fruit” because the County may be able to address the population. She said Legislators are receiving important and valid information from many sources while at the same time trying not to raise taxes. She said she is looking at how a comprehensive look can be taken at all of the information, see where the needs are, fill all of the needs where it will be the most effective in reducing the Jail population consistently, and make sure that the quality of life is at a level that is acceptable to the Legislature. She said what she has heard from this presentation is that the burden on staff is unacceptable; there are too few staff at the Jail and the amount of time and energy spent fixing building issues is unacceptable.

Mr. Stein said he has had an interest in the boardout numbers for a long time and looking at whether there is something the County can do to change the number. He stated there are so many possible explanations but has found that even when things have sounded very reasonable they turned out to only happen by accident.

Mr. John thanked Sgt. Hogan and Mr. Haney for speaking to the Committee and said he would appreciate having them come back to speak about the facility at a future meeting of the Jail Study Committee.