Two Westchester County Correction officers were injured Tuesday during a struggle with an inmate in the behavioral health unit at the county jail.
According to Alonzo West, president of the Westchester County Corrections Officers' Benevolent Association, one officer suffered a broken ankle and a broken wrist, while another suffered injuries to their knee and back. Both are off duty while they heal.
West said dealing with inmates who have mental disorders can be hard for officers who don't have formal training. Add the recent opioid epidemic and the local homeless problem to the mix and corrections officers are dealing with a jail population that has serious problems.
But, West, points out, they aren't complaining.
"We come to work with a mission to care for the inmates and know that it comes with its own set of dangers," he said.
He points to the fact that most mental hospitals in the country have closed and many people suffering from mental disorders end up homeless and eventually land in the jail. Unfortunately, there is no structured help for them in jail either, unless it's ordered by a judge.
"We can't make them take their medication unless it is ordered through the judicial system," he added.
Being attacked, hit with trays, having feces thrown at them are just a few of the daily incidents corrections officers deal with.
But unlike a state or federal prison, jail populations aren't provided education and for the most part therapy or psychiatric help of any kind.
"We have the BOCES program, but many inmates are not in long enough to complete the mostly two-year program and most don't' follow up once they are released," he said. "We also have non-profits who will work with inmates suffering from drug problems, but again, a lot of those inmates were self-medicating for mental issues."
He describes a jail as a place where the inmates come in for committing everything from murder to rape to theft and commit those same types of crimes while in jail.
"We do have local Democratic legislators who are working on solving some of the issues," West said. "But it's the same across the country, not just at the Westchester County Jail."
One thing the corrections officers have requested that they believe will help is pepper spray. West said the spray would at least give them a chance to have time to cuff a person while they wipe at their eyes.
"We don't have guns or batons or any weapons," he said. "It's just us and how we can deal with people on a personal level."
He adds that corrections officers are not pointing any fingers at jail officials or anyone else. They know that it's a complicated issue that will take a national or at least regional solution before things improve.
"Unfortunately, we have a lot of repeat offenders and know many of the inmates well," he said. "They aren't getting the help they need so they end up back with us."
Westchester County Deputy Correction Commissioner Justin Pruyne did not return repeated calls to comment on the injured officers.