POLITICO: Stand Strong on new Disciplinary System, Advocates tell Cuomo
THURSDAY, MARCH 02, 2017

With renegotiations looming between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association after union membership voted down a preliminary contract earlier this week, The Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project penned an open letter to Cuomo urging him to ensure that a new discipline procedure outlined in the tentative agreement replaces the “toothless” one currently in use.




Politico
Stand strong on new disciplinary system, legal advocates tell Cuomo
By Colby Hamilton
March 2, 2017

‘STAND STRONG’ — With renegotiations looming between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association after union membership voted down a preliminary contract earlier this week, legal advocates are urging Cuomo not to let new disciplinary procedures become a bargaining chip.

In a letter, Mary Lynne Werlwas, the head of the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project, implored Cuomo to “stand [his] ground” to ensure a new discipline procedure outlined in the tentative agreement replaces the “toothless” one currently in use.

That process involves a single arbitrator whose decision is binding. Without the agreement of the arbiter, staff cannot be removed from positions, according to Werlwas. This process has led to cases where officers accused of abuses, such as rape, have been allowed back in positions where they have repeated abuses, she said. While these officers faced prosecution, the Department of Correction and Community Supervision has been unable to remove such officers under the current system, Werlwas said.

Under the tentative agreement, this system would be replaced with a three-person panel of arbiters to overhear abuse and neglect cases, similar to a process currently used by the state police. A range of penalties for serious misconduct would also be created, providing the panel with options for dealing with such cases.

“There is no reason to hold correctional staff to a lower standard than the police, especially since they wield their tremendous power over the people in their charge behind prison walls,” Werlwas said.

NYSCOPBA has been mum on why it feels members voted the tentative agreement down. A request for comment from a union spokesman was not returned. On top of the new disciplinary changes were also savings of $35 million on health costs and $35 million on overtime, both of which presumably would come out of members’ pockets.

Regardless of why the contract failed, Werlwas implored Cuomo not to retreat on the discipline changes.

“When you return to the negotiation table, you must stand strong and continue to insist on reforms to the broken employee discipline system,” she wrote. “Anything short will continue a regime in which imprisoned people are physically and sexually abused.”

Two spokespeople for Cuomo did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.