News brief: Investigation into racial bias announced

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Monday that he was ordering an investigation into racial bias in the state prison system after an investigation by The New York Times found that black inmates were punished at significantly higher rates than whites, sent to solitary confinement more often and held there longer.

The investigation analyzed nearly 60,000 disciplinary cases from 2015 and interviewed inmates at prisons around the state who said that guards often used racism to instill subservience.

“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,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement issued on Monday, calling the report “disturbing.”

One of the most striking examples of bias documented was at Clinton Correctional Facility near the Canadian border, the site of a dramatic escape by two white inmates last year. Only one of the 998 guards at the prison is African-American, and black inmates there were nearly four times as likely as whites to be sent to isolation and were held there for an average of 125 days, compared with 90 days for whites, The Times found.

Mr. Cuomo also said he planned to nominate several minority candidates to the state parole board. The Times’s investigation found that black inmates were denied parole at higher rates than whites. Of the current board’s 13 members, only one is a black man and none are Latino men, while the state prison population is nearly three-quarters black and Latino.

“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,” said Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat.

Any new appointments to the board must be confirmed by the State Senate. In an interview about the parole system last week, Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, chairman of the committee that oversees the corrections department, said he would move quickly on any candidates nominated by Mr. Cuomo.

“The governor could submit names early in January and we would consider them right away,” said Mr. Gallivan, a Republican.

An analysis of thousands of parole decisions from the last several years found that fewer than one in six black or Hispanic men was released after his first hearing, compared with one in four white men.