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Governor Cuomo Orders Investigation into Racial Disparities in NY Prisons

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The New York Times published a story on Sunday that delved deep into New York state penitentiaries, documenting a number of racial disparities in how inmates are disciplined and awarded parole. On Monday, in response to The Times expose, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), ordered an investigation into racial bias in the state’s prisons.

Cuomo called The Times report “disturbing,” and said in a statement: “I am directing the state inspector general to investigate the allegations of racial disparities in discipline in state prisons and to recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementation.” He also said he plans on nominating a number of minority candidates to New York’s Parole Board.

“I will be advancing new appointments to the Senate this upcoming session to ensure the state’s Parole Board is reflective of the population it serves,” he said. Only one of the 13 current board members is black; none are Latino, though the state prison population is about three-fourths black or Latino. Cuomo’s nominations would need to be approved by the State Senate, which is comprised of 31 Republicans and 31 Democrats.

The Times report was based on data from 2015, focusing on 60,000 disciplinary cases, and on interviews with inmates across the state. Most of the racial disparities documented took place in upstate prisons, where officers, a vast majority of whom are white, guard prison populations that are majority-black or Latino.

One instance of racial bias documented in The Times report happened at Clinton Correctional Facility, where only one of the 998 guards is black. The report found that black inmates were four times as likely as white inmates to be sent to solitary confinement. In addition, black inmates were held in isolation for 35 more days on average than whites. Here are some other findings from the report:

  • A number of black inmates reported guards referring to them by racial slurs, like “porch monkey,” and “spear chucker.”
  • Among inmates under 25 years old, blacks received far more disciplinary citations than whites, at 185 to 14 respectively.
  • Over the past several years, white inmates were more likely than black or Latino inmates to be granted parole. Less than one in six black or Latino inmates were released on parole after their first hearing, compared to one in four white inmates.

The report also illustrated the discrimination black guards who work in prisons staffed with a majority of white officers experienced. One case from the early 2000s focused on a black officer at Elmira Correctional Facility named Curtis Brown. An investigation found that white guards wrote “token” on Brown’s locker.

Alec Siegel
Alec Siegel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. When he’s not working at Law Street he’s either cooking a mediocre tofu dish or enjoying a run in the woods. His passions include: gooey chocolate chips, black coffee, mountains, the Animal Kingdom in general, and John Lennon. Baklava is his achilles heel. Contact Alec at ASiegel@LawStreetMedia.com.

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