New York

Correctional Association of New York (CANY)

Budget

$1.8 million (FY 2022)

Staffing

11 staff members

State Prison Profile

New York has 44 state prison facilities subject to CANY oversight and incarcerates approximately 32,000 people in state prisons. The state prison system is run by the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYDOCCS).

Authority

New York Consolidated Laws, Chapter 43, Article 6, Section 146

  • Facility Access: CANY has statutory authority to “access, visit, inspect, and examine” all state correctional facilities with 72 hours’ notice. CANY is directed to inspect each NYDOCCS facility at least once every five years. The statute does not address CANY’s right of access to information and documentation maintained by NYDOCCS.
  • Interviews: When visiting facilities, CANY can conduct confidential interviews with incarcerated individuals and prison staff. With 24 hours’ notice, CANY can meet with the superintendent and correctional executive staff as well as organizations of incarcerated individuals such as the inmate grievance resolution committee.
  • Surveys and Phone Calls: CANY can send surveys to incarcerated individuals without prior NYDOCCS approval and can receive phone calls from incarcerated individuals through a hotline, though the person must add CANY as one of its 15 approved numbers to call.

Activities

CANY monitors state prisons to increase transparency and oversight, reporting its findings to both the legislature and public. CANY uses its confidential communications with incarcerated people to collect data on conditions of confinement.

  • Prison Monitoring Visits: CANY conducts roughly 10-12 monitoring visits each year, each of which lasts two to three days. Monitoring visits involve conversations with prison officials and staff unions but are mainly composed of structured interviews with incarcerated people. CANY aggregates this data to understand facility conditions and issues reports on the facility-specific findings.
  • Information Collection: CANY receives confidential communications from incarcerated individuals by phone and letter. CANY can also receive email communications, but these are not confidential. CANY tracks and aggregates issues raised in the communications they receive from incarcerated people and their loved ones and uses this data, along with FOIA/FOIL requests, to track issues in NYDOCCS facilities and inform the public and legislature.
  • Advocacy: CANY has a long history of advocating for criminal justice reform measures, though the organization has focused more purely on its monitoring activities in recent years. Broadly, CANY frames its work in terms of bringing the voices of the incarcerated into public debate. CANY’s policy memoranda and testimonies may be found here.
  • Data Dashboard: CANY systematically compiles data on the prison system and maintains a publicly available data dashboard, available here.

Reports

Prison monitoring reports; Issue-specific reports; Fact sheets; Annual reports. Publicly available and addressed to the Commissioner of NYDOCCS, the Governor, and members of the Legislature. Reports are available here. An archive of historical annual reports back to the 1840s is available here.

  • Monitoring Reports: Address issues in individual facilities that were flagged in CANY monitoring visits and also flag systemic issues present in multiple facilities.
  • Issue Reports: Highlight particular areas of concern across facilities and broader criminal justice system, e.g., healthcare in prisons or post-release barriers.
  • Fact Sheets: Shorter documents providing information and statistics on specific issues. CANY also publishes other document formats, such as collections of first-person accounts and policy recommendation papers.
  • Annual Reports: Aggregate findings across the year.
  • Nontraditional reports: CANY also publicizes information through nontraditional media such as social media and documentaries.
  • NYDOCCS Review: CANY’s authorizing statute gives NYDOCCS 60 days to review and respond to any formal CANY report. This makes it challenging for CANY to quickly issue formal reports on time-sensitive issues.

Organizational History

CANY was founded in 1844 by the President of the Board of Inspectors at Sing Sing Prison to bring together civilians concerned about conditions in correctional facilities. In 1846, CANY was given legislative authority to enter and inspect NY prisons and report on conditions. In 2020, CANY’s authorizing statutes were amended to their current form; notable changes included shorter notice requirements for inspections, confidential interviews, and formal statutory authority for CANY to conduct surveys of people who are incarcerated. Chapter amendments by Governor Andrew Cuomo stripped out some additional powers sought by CANY such as unannounced inspections and mandated access to NYDOCCS documents and records.

Special Note

CANY is one of only three non-governmental prison oversight organizations in the United States, along with the Pennsylvania Prison Society and the John Howard Association of Illinois. Together, the three organizations are working on a series of joint projects comparing issues through a variety of monitoring methods across their jurisdictions.