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Federal Court Strikes down Rule Prohibiting Prison Employee Association with Inmates
A significant decision was made this week in a case before federal judge Cathy Seibel in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. The decision, which struck down a rule of the state Department of Correctional Services prohibiting employees from associating with current or former inmates and parolees, can become an important precedent.
In the instant case, a female corrections officer Joann Corso had sought permission to allow her ex-husband, who was in prison, to live with her after being released. The Dept. of Correctional Services stepped in between with their rulebooks and said no. Corso was also denied permission to associate with her daughter’s boyfriend, who was a parolee.
Exasperated with the rulebooks that denied her connection or permission to live with her near and dear ones, Corso sued, and Goshen attorney Michael Sussman filed the lawsuit on behalf of Corso.
Soon after the lawsuit was filed, the state Department of Correctional Services officials tried to mend their mistake by amending the relevant rule.
The Department changed the rule to prohibit employees from associating with a current or former inmate or parolee, only where the employee “has an illegal or improper interest in the case of an inmate, parolee, or release, where such [association] may interfere with or give the appearance of interfering with the employee’s duties or with the work of the department.”
However, on Wednesday, US District Judge Cathy Seibel found the amendment to be insufficient to pass constitutional muster and ruled the state prison rule as unconstitutional for being overbroad.
The decision has important ramifications and as Sussman, Corso’s attorney, observed, it could set off “a national precedent … so people who are, in fact, incarcerated can more easily after their incarceration reintegrate into communities and not have this fear that if they meet someone who works somehow in a correction department they can’t associate with that person.”
Sussman noted that there were at least 94,000 employees in the state corrections system, and their relatives, friends and associates constitute a big portion of the state’s electorate.