NY Times Editorial Board: "Holding Prison Guards Accountable"

NY Times Editorial Board: "Holding Prison Guards Accountable"

New York State prison guards often escape punishment for acts of brutality because district attorneys in communities where prisons provide jobs, and are thus essential to the communities’ economic health, are hesitant to charge them. Another factor is that the union contract with the state shields prison workers from prosecution even in many egregious cases.

That contract is now being renegotiated. Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to hold out for a new one that strengthens state control over the prison system by holding guards more closely accountable for wrongdoing.

The flaws in the disciplinary system, which have been obvious for some time, were exposed yet again last year when the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York charged five corrections officerswith fraud and with violating the civil rights of an inmate whom guards had beaten nearly to death at the Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill three years earlier.

Three of the officers pleaded guilty. Last month, a federal jury in Westchester County convicted the remaining two — one of them a supervisor — of a barbaric crime and an extensive cover-up that might have gone unpunished if not for federal intervention.

The case dates back to November 2013, when officers grew angry at a 54-year-old inmate named Kevin Moore for talking back to them. They proceeded to kick, punch and beat him with batons for what court documents describe as “an extended period,” leaving him with five fractured ribs, a collapsed lung and multiple facial fractures.

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As Mr. Moore begged for mercy, the supervising officer on the scene did nothing, instead mocking him as she watched. According to court documents, the officers ripped out a clump of dreadlocks from Mr. Moore’s head, which one of them claimed as a “trophy.”

Instead of sending the gravely injured inmate to the hospital, the guards locked him up in solitary confinement. They cleaned up blood and concocted an elaborate cover-up in which the inmate was falsely described as having attacked and injured a guard. Mr. Moore’s injuries were discovered the next day. According to court documents, he spent the next 17 days hospitalized.

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