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Report: Wide racial disparity in New York prison discipline

December 2, 2022 Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press
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Black and Hispanic people incarcerated in New York state prisons are more likely than white people to face further punishment once they wind up behind bars, according to a state inspector general report released Thursday.

A Black person behind bars in New York from 2015 to 2020 was more than 22% more likely to get cited for misbehavior than a white person, according to the report, which looked at misbehavior reports that were ultimately dismissed. At the same time, a Hispanic person behind bars was over 12% more likely.

Inspector General Lucy Lang said the state’s corrections department has failed to come up with strategies to eliminate the racial disparities for years. Her report was sparked by a 2016 investigation by The New York Times that found rampant racial epithets and disparate disciplinary treatment against the largely Black and Hispanic prisoner population.

Factors fueling the disparities likely range from explicit and implicit racial bias among corrections staffers. The report also pointed to shifts in state prison population demographics at a time when the number of people behind bars in New York has declined 41% since 2015.

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Lang called for annual anti-bias training for all state corrections employees, more analysis of disciplinary data, wider use of centralized hearing officers and the expanded use of fixed camera systems in all state corrections facilities.

“Although racial disparities may not start at the prison gates, unfortunately they also do not end there.” Lang said in a statement.

Those who are cited for misbehavior can face sanctions such as: verbal admonition, segregated confinement in a cell, restitution for property damage, loss of privileges, or forfeiture of contraband money. People behind bars might also lose their good behavior allowances, which can reduce their period of incarceration.

Lang said corrections officials should also have less discretion to decide the severity of punishment for misbehavior. New York’s corrections department has argued such a move would tie the hands of hearing officers.

The state corrections department plans to give hearing and review officers a new manual to help ensure incarcerated people get fair hearings. The corrections department will also consider adding staff training for implicit bias, and said it’s hoping to hiring more hearing officers statewide.

Some criminal justice reform advocates are calling on lawmakers to pass more wide-ranging reforms, such as the Earned Time Act, which would protect and expand the ability for incarcerated people to reduce their time behind bars by participating in educational and treatment programming.

“Importantly, this legislation would create protections that address a key issue raised by the Inspector General: that disparities in discipline result in longer periods of incarceration for Black and Latinx New Yorkers,” said Katie Schaffer, director of advocacy and organizing for the Center for Community Alternatives.

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