By Jeanne Sager
FALLSBURG February 10, 2004 A rash of attacks on staff at Sullivan Correctional Facility have some folks running scared.
According to Ed Kasper, chief sector steward at the Fallsburg prison, there have been three separate attacks on staff members in the last two weeks one on January 22, one on January 31 and the third as recent as last Tuesday.
Four corrections officers and a sergeant were assaulted, Kasper said, some punched in the nose or face and another scratched by an inmate with long fingernails who was able to cut through the employees shirt and gouge out his skin.
Two of those cases were addressed by NYS Police who were called in to investigate. According to Investigator Rick Sauer at the Liberty barracks, both are still under investigation.
But Kasper said not all cases see the light of day (Sauer was not aware of an incident on January 22, although the State Police are usually called to every problem at the prison, as it is a state agency), and its affecting the inmates attitudes about abuse of privileges.
We have ongoing labor management in which we have expressed dissatisfaction with the disciplinary system we feel thats the root of the problem, Kasper said. When they do hearings, they send the wrong message that when you hit an officer, we slap you on the wrist.
Kasper intimated that the lack of discipline has boosted the number of inmate assaults.
Sullivans never had a problem with this, he said. Its been a rash of assaults.
The funny thing about it is its the older inmates who have been there for a while who are acting out, he noted. Theyre kind of becoming more aggressive because they know the sanctions.
Its scary for us, Kasper continued. We dont know who is next.
James Flateau, a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Corrections, said the recent incidents are not a sign of the usual occurrences at Sullivan.
Inmate assaults on officers since 1998 have actually gone down, he said, from 12 six years ago to nine in 2003.
Total incidents at the prison are also decreasing, Flateau said, from 75 in 1998 to 54 last year.
These numbers are well in line with other prisons, he said. The numbers at Sullivan are trending downward and are already lower than other [maximum security prisons].
Those numbers, he added, come from staff reports at Sullivan Correctional.
Flateau was not aware of the incident that allegedly occurred on Jan. 22. The other two assaults are being prosecuted, he said, which will likely result in additional prison time for the convicted inmates.
An inmate who is convicted of additional charges during his or her prison stay receives a consecutive sentence, not one concurrent to the term the convict was originally sent to prison for.
Flateau said this is the modus operandi at all New York State prisons, including Sullivan Correctional.
What else can we do? he asked.
But the Department of Corrections is still facing a challenge from Richard Harcrow, president of the union for corrections officers.
Our officers sometimes feel like theyre second-class citizens, he said.
When a police officer is assaulted on the street, Harcrow said, the person responsible is prosecuted.
But Harcrow said there are still many inmate assault cases that fail to see the light of day.
If you have a weak disciplinary system, what kind of message do you send? he asked.
We want the department [of corrections] to be aware of this and take action.