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Bayside Corrections Reforms Advance

TRENTON – Three bills, crafted in response to the New Year’s Day gang-related uprising of inmates at Bayside State Prison, were released today by the Senate Law, Public Safety and Veterans Affairs Committee.

“We learned from our hearings that the officers need more effective training in dealing with gangs and that the Corrections Commissioner should be required to investigate disturbances and recommend fixable remedies after there is a serious injury or death at a prison,” said Senator John A. Girgenti, the committee Chairman.

The panel heard numerous hours of oftentimes conflicting testimony by corrections officers at Bayside and officials from the Department of Corrections over the extent and the cause of the fracas in which more than two dozen officers were injured and a similar amount of inmates were transferred to more tightly secured facilities.

“The key recommendation, in my opinion, is the proposal that the Corrections Commissioner must investigate a serious incident and recommend a budgetary fix with a dollar amount,” said Senator Girgenti, sponsor of the recommendation included in S-2536. “We want assurances that the Department will find out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Senator Paul A. Sarlo, also a member of the committee, said he believes improved communications between various shifts at corrections facilities is essential.

Along with Senator Girgenti, Senator Sarlo is sponsoring a bill, S-2537, to implement a telecommunications voice mail system that will enable one shift to tell an incoming shift of officers where to look for potential trouble spots among potentially restive inmates.

“What became apparent from the hearings is that the existing management system tolerated a breakdown in communication from one shift to another,” said Senator Sarlo, D-Bergen, Essex and Passaic. “With a functional voice mail system in place, the officers will be able to pass on critical intelligence which could be life saving.”

The Gigenti-Sarlo bill would respond to a situation aired at the hearings which revealed that overtime needed to document intelligence from one shift to the next was eliminated in a cost-saving move several years ago.

Senator Nicholas J. Sacco, D-Hudson and Bergen, said increased officer training in gang symbols and groupings would increase safety for corrections officers through a bill he is co-sponsoring with Senator Girgenti, S-2538, to require officers at adult corrections facilities to complete continuing education programs.

“It’s obvious the gang problem in prisons is not going away overnight,” said Senator Sacco. “The safety of officers mandates that they receive adequate training to deal with gangs and the symbols their members use to communicate.”

The measures were released from committee with bipartisan support. The bill to increase reporting requirements after incidents could be posted shortly for a floor vote in the Senate. The measures to require continuing education for officers and to implement the voice mail systems are expected to be referred next to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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