New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered an investigation into multiple cases of racial bias within state prison systems after what he deemed “disturbing” revelations from a New York Times investigative report.
The newspaper analyzed some 60,000 cases of disciplinary actions against prison inmates in New York in 2015, finding that black inmates were disproportionately punished more frequently and severely compared to their white peers.
Black inmates were four times more likely to be sent to solitary confinement, for example, and were held in isolation for an average of 125 days. White inmates in solitary confinement, on the other hand, served an average of 90 days.
“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,” Cuomo said.
The report also found that prison guards and parole boards were much more likely to be staffed by white men. At Clinton Correctional Facility near Plattsburgh, for instance, only one of the 998 guards is African-American, while 12 of the 13 men on the state’s parole board are white. Meanwhile, the state’s prison inmate population is roughly 75% black or Latino.
The investigation brings up ongoing issues in New York State and around the country concerning inmates’ basic civil rights while serving prison sentences. Private citizens living in rental units are guaranteed under the law to safe and sanitary living conditions; if a landlord doesn’t address necessary repairs within 21 days of a failed inspection, for example, tenants have the right to sue through small claims or housing courts. But conditions in prisons often fail to meet respectable standards of living at all.
Take a recent case at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, which alleges that an inmate was forced to live in a solitary confinement cell flooded with raw sewage for days at a time. The suit states that prison guards repeatedly denied his requests for a plumber or even a plunger to fix an overflowing toilet. The inmate is now suing the prison for violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment.
In New York, Governor Cuomo says that he hopes the present investigation will bring more balance and justice to the state’s prisons by encouraging more diverse staffing at all levels of the correctional system.
“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.