Union pushes anti-contraband effort

Coxsackie Correctional Facility, a maximum-security state prison in Coxsackie, Greene County. Provided photo

WATERTOWN — The union representing state correctional officers is again calling for a renewed Secure Vendor Program to prevent contraband from circulating in correctional facilities.

Launched in January 2018, the Secure Vendor Program was a state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision initiative designed to mitigate mailed contraband by regulating packages sent to inmates.

DOCCS regulations prevented family members and friends from mailing personally-purchased and packaged items to incarcerated loved ones, with the state instead developing catalogs of items from approved vendors and instituting an ordering process.

The program was implemented on a pilot basis at three prisons — Greene, Green Haven and Taconic — and plans were in place to expand the program to all state facilities by the fall of 2018. But after only 10 days, backlash from state and national organizations pushed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to suspend the program.

The Legal Aid Society, PEN America, the National Supermarket Association, NYC Books Through Bars, the nonprofit Correctional Association of New York, Alliance of Families for Justice and Democratic state leaders all denounced the program.

“Concerns have been raised by families of inmates regarding the availability and price of products under this program, concerns we do not take lightly,” Thomas W. Mailey, a DOCCS spokesperson, said in a statement following the program’s Jan. 12, 2018 suspension.

Bryan Hluska, central region vice president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, and John Roberts, northern region vice president, issued a joint statement this week in response to drug-related incidents reported at north country prisons earlier this month.

“Two separate drug incidents at north country prisons magnify the continued drug problem in our facilities,” the statement reads. “With the Secure Vendor Program, drugs like this wouldn’t stand a chance of getting inside of our prisons. DOCCS owes it to the safety of staff to reinstate it.”

A Nov. 7 incident resulted in one arrest at Watertown Correctional Facility after a K9 alerted staff to a visitor who had hidden balloons in her pants.

Vanessa S. Stanford, 31, of Utica, was charged by state police with second-degree introducing prison contraband. Police records indicate the balloons contained 7.8 grams of K2, a synthetic cannabinoid also known as Spice.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports K2 as unpredictable, dangerous and misleadingly called synthetic marijuana because K2 interacts with the same brain cell receptors as THC, though the man-made K2 is not chemically related to marijuana.

On Nov. 3, a corrections officer reportedly saw an inmate “in a state of intoxication” in the recreation area of the dorm at Bare Hill Correctional Facility, Malone. The officer, according to a news release from NYSCOPBA, was clearing out other inmates from the area when the “disruptive” inmate attempted to charge the officer. Two other inmates “grabbed the inmate before he could get to the officer.”

Additional officers then responded, and the inmate broke free from the inmates holding him. NYSCOPBA reports two applications of pepper spray were administered with no apparent impact before officers took the inmate to the ground in a body hold. While on the ground, the inmate allegedly kicked one of the officers in the groin and another in the wrist. Two officers were taken to a local hospital for pain and were later released.

The inmate, 26, was handcuffed and removed from the dorm and placed in a special housing unit pending disciplinary charges. He is serving a five-year sentence for an Albany County criminal possession of a controlled substance conviction.

Bare Hill staff believe the inmate was high on K2, according to NYSCOPBA. The union did not note whether the inmate was tested for K2 or how they believe the substance was introduced to the facility.

NYSCOPBA has continued to call for the reinstatement of the Secure Vendor Program since 2018, routinely issuing statements in response to drugs being located in prisons or apprehended before visitations.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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