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Prison Visiting Project

Methodology

Utilizing a unique legislative mandate granted to the organization in 1846, the Correctional Association conducts regular monitoring visits to the 55 correctional facilities operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision that house men. New York State prisons that house women are monitored by the CA’s Women in Prison Project.

Each visit takes the form of field research: with either full-day or multi-day, on-site assessments during which members of our Visiting Committee—comprised of CA staff and board members, medical and psychiatric professionals, formerly incarcerated people, criminal justice experts, and other advocates—branch out to all corners of the prison to conduct interviews, record observations and collect data.

During these visits, we observe and hear stories about the impact incarceration has on the people who live and work in prisons, assess the level of tension and violence in the facilities and witness the sometimes devastating effects of incarceration on individuals with medical or mental health needs. During these visits we attempt to go beyond the barriers, both physical and bureaucratic, that hide the true cost of prisons on the individuals inside and the families and communities on the outside.

During a visit to a prison, the CA compiles data from:

• Meetings with the facility’s executive team, the Inmate Liaison Committee (a group of incarcerated individuals elected to represent the concerns of their peers), individuals incarcerated throughout the institution, correction officers, and civilian staff, including medical and mental health providers.

• Detailed questionnaires submitted to the prison superintendent prior to each visit requesting information about characteristics of the prison population, programs, services, disruptive incidents, and disciplinary processes.

• In-person surveys completed by people we meet at the facility and mail-in surveys submitted after our visit by those who agree to participate. The surveys cover such topics as programs and services, medical and mental health care, incarcerated person-staff relations, and the disciplinary system. The CA usually receives between 100 and 300 completed surveys from each visit, constituting a significant and reliable source of information about conditions in prisons.

• System-wide data requested through New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) or publicly available from DOCCS and other state agencies.

Following a visit, PVP prepares comprehensive reports that are issued to facility administrators, DOCCS officials, relevant state agencies, legislators, incarcerated individuals, and the general public. In addition, PVP receives hundreds of letters each month from individuals who are currently incarcerated throughout New York State, seeking assistance and conveying grievances, alerting us to specific problems in facilities, and providing us with documentation which we use to inform future visits.