ALBANY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) investigation has been concluded after nearly 20 Public Employee Safety and Health (PESH) complaints from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA).

The investigation found that there were unsafe working conditions created by significant exposure to illicit drugs, including fentanyl, while searching incoming incarcerated individual mail and packages for contraband in two Central New York-area correctional facilities. 

The investigation was prompted after several complaints were filed in the summer of 2021 after serious incidents of fentanyl exposure on staff which included several staff members being hospitalized.

“The safety of everyone inside a correctional facility is our top priority and illicit drugs in prisons has long amplified the dangerous conditions. Our members have been frequently exposed to fentanyl, which is smuggled into the prisons when frisking mail, documents, packages, incarcerated individuals, and their living spaces,” said NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers. “Staff who are exposed to these drugs while simply performing their jobs is unacceptable and this investigation shows the State needs additional tools to protect its employees.”

Soon after the complaints were filed, a DOL investigation was launched and found twelve citations were issues at Marcy Correctional Facility and seven citations issued at Mid-State Correctional Facility. These citations then required the State to take additional steps to enhance the safety in package rooms, reduce exposure to illicit drugs and provide more robust PPE.

“Illicit drugs entering our prisons through the mail and package rooms has long been an issue, and exposure to these drugs has put our members’ health and safety directly at risk,” said NYSCOPBA Central Region Vice President Bryan Hluska. “The incidents at Marcy and Mid-State last summer upended the lives of multiple staff members who were given Narcan due to exposure and required a trip to a nearby hospital for further treatment. This was a wake-up call to everyone that more needed to be done, and I’m glad that we’re seeing progress to enhance safety measures within our walls and fences.”

The PESH findings from the investigation concluded that the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) should consider other policies aimed at decreasing staff exposure to dangerous drugs.

Suggested policies include a more secure vendor package program and photocopying of incarcerated individuals’ mail. This investigation was also conducted prior to DOCCS’s implementation of its revitalized secure vendor program and mail scanning initiatives.

The investigation serves to further support DOCCS’s mission to restrict the methods of packages and mail sent to correctional facilities by incarcerated individual families and friends, and therefore lower the risk of correctional officers being hospitalized.

“For years, we’ve been calling on the State to institute a vendor program as we’ve seen countless examples of contraband entering our prisons through a multitude of ways in the mail room, the package room, and through visitors,” said President Powers. “Thankfully, through the work of the DOCCS Prison Violence Task Force, which solicits input from NYSCOPBA, other unions, and incarcerated individual liaisons, a Vendor Package Program has been instituted across all 44 state facilities and early data shows that it’s working… Through these efforts, along with mail photocopying pilot programs and the expansion of drug sniffing K9 units, we’re seeing less dangerous drugs enter our prisons and we hope to continue that trend in an effort to keep both our staff and the incarcerated population safe from fentanyl and other dangerous forms of contraband.”