School of Criminal Justice Graduate Students Visit NY Prison

 

Increasingly, the correctional population in New York and elsewhere is resembling what scholars have dubbed a "gray tsunami". This Spring, a group of graduate students enrolled in "Aging, Crime & Incarceration" (RCRJ659) saw first-hand what it is like to be old in prison.

Dr. Giza Lopes, who teaches the course, conducted a "community classroom" session at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York. Fishkill, formerly a prison mental hospital, currently houses over 1,600 inmates, most of whom are serving time for violent felonies.

The prison is known for its "Unit for the Cognitively Impaired". First in the country, the UCI is a 30-bed specialized unit for inmates suffering from dementia-related and other cognitive conditions. The facility also houses one of NY's five "Regional Medical Units", where chronically ill inmates from across the state in need of long term care are lodged.

During their visit, students interacted with medical staff, correctional officers, and prisoners. They also met with Superintendent William Connolly, who described the difficulties in placing older prisoners when they are released back to the community. Superintendent Connolly explained that many nursing homes are reluctant to accept formerly incarcerated individuals, particularly sex offenders and those with an arson conviction.

While a few inmates ultimately will be released back to the community, many will die in prison. Recalling the recent passing of a fellow inmate in the UCI, a prisoner who has spent the last 42 years behind bars described death as "a thief who comes in the night and steals you away". Students learned about hospice service in the facility and burial procedures when an inmate's body is not claimed.

The field trip was sponsored by UAlbany's Alumni Association. Dr. Lopes and her students are very grateful for that support. They also thank the staff and inmates at Fishkill Correctional Facility, who generously shared their time and experiences with them.