NEW YORK CITY — In a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Correction filed in Queens Supreme Court, the Correction Officer’s Benevolent Association (COBA) calls conditions for officers at D.O.C. facilities nothing short of a human rights emergency requiring immediate attention.
The complaints include back-breaking triple shifts of 24 hours or more, with few breaks or access to food and water, shortages of PPE to protect against COVID-19, and increased violence against officers and within the inmate population.
“In my 22-year career, it has never been this bad for New York City correction officers,” said Bennie Boscio Jr., president of COBA. “Working 25-plus hours straight, 30 hours in some cases straight with no meal breaks, no bathroom breaks. We’ve got female correction officers that are not given a break to go pump breast milk for their infant child!”
Boscio Jr. said conditions have resulted in some 1,000 officers quitting the job within the past two years. He also alleges the D.O.C. is jailing alleged gang members with members of the same gang, which he says is counter to policy and fuels more violence.
“You’ll have 40 Bloods in one house, you have 40 Crips in the house and one officer on the floor for every 50 inmates. So, we’re outnumbered to begin with,” he said.
Interestingly, the lawsuit comes on the same day new D.O.C. Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi unveiled his post-COVID-19 program to improve conditions and address many of the issues cited in the suit. Entitled “NEWDAYDOC,” he promises a laser-focus on improving safety and returning to what he calls an enthusiastic workforce.
“I’ve got my hand in the tiller of this boat and I’m trying to point towards a new direction that makes it a safe place, a decent place to be incarcerated and a decent place to work,” Schiraldi said.
Appointed to the position two months ago by the mayor, Schiraldi vowed to take on the culture and environment in D.O.C. jails. While not commenting on the lawsuit directly, he told PIX11 the concerns of staff should be taken seriously, especially the safety and moral of officers.
“The lower morale is, the more people don’t come to work. People don’t come to work, there’s more violence, the more violence there is the greater the discipline for people,” said Schiraldi. “And the more of those things there are, the more people don’t come to work.”
Boscio said with so many officers quitting, the number of correction officers in the D.O.C. is down roughly 7%, while the inmate population has swelled 45%.
The New York State Department of Labor is also named in the suit.