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Despite Misconduct, Fired New York Prison Guards Return To Work After Arbitration

A guard working at a Hudson Valley prison pummeled a 19-year-old shackled by the legs to a restraint chair. An officer at a facility near the Canadian border denied food to a man in solitary confinement 13 times over a week. Outside Albany, a guard told a prisoner, “That’s how you get dumped on your fucking head,” then smashed his head into a wall, reports the Marshall Project. Each time, New York state officials fired the guards. Each time, they appealed. Each time, private arbitrators gave the officers their jobs back.

Between 2010 and 2022, arbitrators reinstated three out of every four guards fired for abuse or covering it up, according to a review by The Marshall Project of 136 cases. The decisions the outside arbitrators wrote heavily favored prison guards, even in the face of strong evidence against them.


Just two arbitrators handled about half of these cases, the review found. Arbitrators often dismissed prisoners’ testimony as unreliable and criticized the state for putting on weak cases, according to a review of disciplinary records. Among the cases in which arbitrators upheld the firings of officers, a majority came after coworkers contradicted the accused guard. In effect, arbitrators — typically private lawyers — can overrule personnel decisions made by the corrections department’s senior leadership, including the commissioner appointed by the governor. Former New York state corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer said arbitration is “a crazy system” that doesn’t benefit the public. “The employee should be terminated, the inmate should not be abused,” he said. “And yet we let it go on and on.” As The Marshall Project and The New York Times previously reported, the state almost never succeeds in firing guards. Experts say this helps sustain a culture of cover-upsamong corrections officers who falsify reports and send beating victims to solitary confinement.

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