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NYC Correction Dept. failing to give staffers up-to-date training in suicide prevention, fire safety as required
By: CHELSIA ROSE MARCIUS April 19, 21. 12:05

The city’s Correction Department has failed to retrain thousands of correction officers in suicide prevention and other life-saving classes this past year, a “dismal” record that could put the agency in the cross-hairs of state authorities, the Daily News has learned.

Only about 6% have taken a yearly refresher course in suicide prevention required of all 8,200 correction officers, and only 17% of uniformed staffers required to take a mandatory fire safety course have completed that training, according to a spokesman for the agency.

Correction officers must be retrained every year in some topics like suicide prevention, and failure to fulfill those training requirements can catch the attention of the New York State Commission of Correction, which evaluates whether the agency is meeting its own training standards.

“The percentage trained is dismal,” Correction Department Chief Becky Scott wrote in a March 24 email obtained by The News about how many staff completed CPR, suicide prevention and mental health training at the Anna M. Kross Center at Rikers Island.

Two inmate deaths in March at the jail prompted Scott to request the training figures and demand answers in the email she wrote to Deputy Commissioner for Training and Development Patrick Dail.

“How often are the trainings required? How often are the courses provided? In response to the recent suicide events that occurred within AMKC, do you have a plan to improve the [percent] of staff that are trained [?]” Scott wrote.

Several Correction Department employees who spoke with The News on the condition of anonymity said the lapse in training has left many of them feeling ill-equipped to stop the spate of fires set weekly by some inmates or to help others who try to take their own lives.

“These classes are grossly mismanaged,” said one instructor who teaches at the Correction Academy. “There’s a bunch of classes that are necessary for a correction officer to be able to do their job ... and those classes are not happening.”

“If you don’t practice that skill on a regular basis, you’re going to forget,” the instructor said, adding that the suicide prevention refresher course takes 40 minutes online. “Something as serious as suicide prevention is something that everybody should know.”

 

The agency figures showed roughly 94% of correction officers failed to take the required suicide prevention retraining between April 8, 2020 and April 8, 2021.

About 41% percent were behind in CPR training, only 47% were up-to-date in firearms classes, and only 23 out of 132 uniformed staffers required to take a yearly fire safety course had done so by April 16.

Part of the training problem, some insiders say, is that the agency has been strained for months by low-staffing numbers.

The Correction Department reported a daily average of 1,400 fewer available staffers in January compared with the start of 2020, Commissioner Cynthia Brann told the city’s Board of Correction on Jan. 12.

More than 1,900 uniformed staff, including correction officers, were also out on family, military or long-term medical leave, with a daily average of 1,200 out sick, Brann said — and there’s been little change in more recent figures.

The department also has not had a new class of recruits since February 2019.

The staffing shortage has led to dozens of employees working triple shifts as the jail population has surged, making it difficult to pull people out for training.

As of Monday, there were more than 5,700 people behind bars — about 1,900 more than the number in April 2020.

The head of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association said staffing is no excuse for the training lapse.

 

“If the Department of Correction prioritized the training of Correction Officers with critical life-saving skills with the same zeal it has for disciplining officers, our members would be properly equipped to do what’s asked of them,” said Benny Boscio Jr., president of the union.

Boscio called for an investigation into what he called “negligence” by Deputy Commissioner Dail.

“He should be held fully responsible for the DOC’s colossal failure to maintain the proper training of my members,” Boscio said.

Correction Department spokesman Peter Thorne said the agency was doing all it could to maintain its training schedule despite the impacts of COVID-19.

“We have faced severe operational challenges including our academy being closed for nearly four months, dozens of veteran instructors retiring or being redeployed over the course of the pandemic, and thousands of staff members calling in sick who understandably could not attend even one class on schedule,” Thorne said.

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