GOWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – The union representing correctional officers at Gowanda Correctional Facility is weighing-in on inmate disturbances that News 4 first reported Monday on WIVB.com.
Joe Miano, Western Region Vice President for the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, says there was an initial incident in the recreation yard Friday evening, and that it involved nine inmates “fighting with weapons.”
“After that, throughout a three hour period, there were seven more fights in seven different areas of the facility,” Miano said.
He says additional staff from another facility were brought in to quell multiple disturbances which he believes were planned and coordinated.
Miano says the main issue involved a faction of inmates controlling phones within Gowanda’s housing units.
“It was very calculated as to these fights taking place and by the time responding officers got there the inmates would comply. Luckily there was nothing aimed toward staff. It was all inmate on inmate incidents,” he said.
On Monday, a state Department of Corrections spokesperson released a statement saying a “frisk of select areas of the premises including housing units” had been completed, and that the facility “returned to normal operations.”
The spokesperson stated that the “frisk” followed several incidents involving inmates, and that no staff were injured.
The Department of Corrections has launched an investigation into the disturbances.
“They found some weapons. They didn’t find a lot of weapons. They found some. Not a lot,” Miano told News 4.
“Homemade makeshift knives or even some edge weapons — like razor type weapons,” he added.
Miano says these types of incidents are becoming the “new norm” at Gowanda and the state’s other correctional facilities.
“Unfortunately, this is going to be the new norm. The inmates that are in our state prisons today are the most violent inmates in the history of the department and it’s not going to get any better,” he said.
Miano, who gathered the information after talking to his members assigned to the facility, says about 36 inmates were transported out of Gowanda Correctional Facility following the incidents on Friday.
Miano called for more staffing to respond when these types of incidents occur. He says that’s especially true at medium security facilities where inmates have more open areas to move around.
He says it’s hard to contain inmates when there is a problem like what happened at Gowanda.
“We can’t run the facilities like the department wants to run them. They have to be run with things like this in mind,” Miano said. “You can’t react afterwards.”
“The department wants to run on normal operations, but that’s not the norm anymore,” he said. “Normal operations are several fights at night. Lots of contraband being found. Lots of drugs being found. Inmates being high on synthetic marijuana. Those are the issues that people deal with every day inside these prisons.”
The state Department of Corrections released a statement in response to the union’s calls for more staffing.
“The Union is clearly incorrect in its assertions. At Gowanda Correctional Facility, the ratio of security staff to inmates is more than twice the national average,” stated spokesperson Thomas Mailey. “DOCCS also recently provided over $1 million worth of new state-of-the-art technology to detect contraband. The hardworking men and women of the Department deserve to work in the safest possible conditions, and we will continue to achieve that goal by working together with all stakeholders.”
According to the Department of Corrections, as of July 21, there was a total of 736 employees at the facility, with 562 of them security staff. That is a 1 to 2.7 ratio of security staff to inmates at Gowanda Correctional Facility, compared to the national ratio of 1 to 6.35 inmates. (American Correctional Association, September 2012).
As for the recent inmate incidents at Gowanda, the Department of Corrections won’t comment because of the on-going investigation.