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The Original Bull Gang Oct. 1948
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Green Haven, an "honor max," is a prison of choice for most long-term inmates. At a mere 80 miles from New York City, this Dutchess County facility is more easily visited by family and friends than maximum-security prisons in northern and western New York State. Inmates earn their transfer here, and their continued stay is conditional on maintaining a record of good behavior.


For a maximum-security prison, Green Haven is a relatively quiet place with few disciplinary problems. This is despite the presence of an unusually high proportion of violent men serving long sentences. Eighty-three percent of Green Haven's 2,100 inmates were convicted of violent felonies, as opposed to 73 percent at the Department's other maximum-security facilities. The median, or mid-range, sentence at Green Haven has a minimum term of 20 years, more than twice as long as the nine and a half years at comparable facilities. Sixty percent of the prisoners are lifers.

Yet, as a look at unusual incident statistics reveals. Green Haven is generally less bedeviled by violence than other general confinement maxes. The rate of inmate-on-staff assaults at Green Haven in the year 2000 was 22.6 per thousand inmates; at the other maxes, it was 27. Inmate-on-inmate assaults at Green Haven occurred at the rate of 12.7; at the others, 37.6. A "violence composite" including assaults, cell fires and other dangerous acts is highly favorable to Green Haven with a rate of 41.6 per thousand against the 77.5 rate at its sister maxes.

Accessibility to family and friends is not the sole reason for Green Haven's excellent state of discipline. Over the years, a variety of additional incentives to good behavior have been developed. Well-behaved prisoners can apply for housing on one of Green Haven's honor housing blocks, which offer larger cells and special privileges, and can receive visits in the comparative comfort of the new visiting room. They are eligible for family picnics on Fay Field and for extended overnight visits under the Family Reunion Program. Finally, there is the often cited tendency of long timers to come to terms with their circumstances, settle in and conduct themselves so as to sidestep unnecessary conflict and stress.

New York's last "big house"

The 1930's was a period of prison expansion in New York. Public alarm over the "crime wave" associated with Prohibition had inspired the passage of new sentencing laws in 1926. In that year, there were approximately 9,700 men and women in the state's adult correctional facilities (prisons, reformatories and institutions for the criminally insane and defective). By 1931, the effects of the tough new laws were seen in the prison system (whose census was approaching 12,000), but they did not have the desired impact on the state's crime rate. Arrests and convictions continued to rise, outrunning new prison construction. Attica, Wallkill, Coxsackie and Woodbourne opened between 1931 and 1935, but were not enough to handle new commitments.

In 1938, with the prison census nearing 18,000, the Legislature authorized construction of a new prison on state-owned land in the hamlet of Green Haven. The 839-acre site had been acquired by the state in 1911, nearly three decades earlier, and had served a hodge-podge of miscellaneous uses. It was originally purchased with the intention of establishing a "farm and industrial colony" for tramps and vagrants, but the project never materialized. In 1916, the site was used briefly as a National Guard mobilization camp; troops were trained at "Camp Whitman" (for then-Governor Charles S. Whitman) in preparation for the invasion of Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa.

Starting in the 1920's, the site was farmed by patients of the Hudson River State Hospital. Parts were used during the Depression years by the State Conservation Department to grow roadside shade trees, and by the federal government as a "transient camp" for weary hoboes and drifters.

Construction commenced in 1939 and was nearing completion at the end of 1941, In the meantime, Green Haven Prison (as it was called until 1970) had as its first prisoners two women. The women became separated from a group with which they were touring the site, entered a cell on a lark and, at about 5:45 in the afternoon, saw the cell door close behind them. Their cries were heard, but nobody at the prison could get to them. Finally, state police found an inspector in Poughkeepsie who eventually located a contractor's representative who had keys. The women were freed around 11 that night.

In July 1941, William Hunt, who had overseen Attica since its opening 10 years earlier, was appointed warden of the new prison. On first glance, Hunt might have thought he was still in Attica. Green Haven, like Attica, had a 30-foot high wall punctuated by guard towers, enclosing similar acreage (48.6 to Attica's 55). Inmate housing was in long, three-story cell blocks, arranged like Attica's in a rectangle whose interior was subdivided by corridors into four enormous recreation yards.

The only difference is that, whereas Attica's rectangle of cells is fully closed, Green Haven's is split down the middle, as though pried apart into two squarish "C's" whose open sides face each other. Between the "C's" are Building 2 (originally the hospital and segregation) and the kitchen and mess hall complex.

With its massive dam-like wall, multi-tiered blocks of barred cells, cavernous mess halls with gas jets in the ceilings and factory-style industrial buildings in the back, Green Haven was an archetypal "Big House" prison in the style of the 1930's and '40 's. It was the last prison in New York built on this model: future max construction would be on the "pod" design of Shawangunk, Downstate, Upstate and Five Points.

The duration and six months: wartime service

Green Haven was supposed to open Oct. 1,1941, but the war overseas created delays in receiving materials and equipment. The prison's opening was pushed back. Then, eight days before the rescheduled opening on Dec. 15, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the nation was plunged into war.

Even before Pearl Harbor, the prison population had begun to fall off as men enlisted in the armed services. But though it was suddenly superfluous as a state prison, Green Haven would soon be put to use by the United States Army. In 1942, the federal government leased Green Haven for the duration of the war plus six months, using it as a military prison where deserters and other wayward military personnel were detained until deemed fit return to the front lines.

Army officers used cycles in Green Have: 600-foot long corridors that ceased when corrections took the prison back after the war. Among other interesting trivia from the "disciplinary barracks” days is the service there Corrections Sergeant Edwin LaVallee, who was a captain in the U.S. Army; after the war, LaVallee would go on to serve DOCS as warden Auburn and Clinton.

Green Haven finally opens

Green Haven was returned to the state - in rough shape -Jan. 1, 1948. Locks had to be replaced, because keys were lost. More than a year and a half was spent on reconstruction and renovation. It was declared "open" on Oct. 1, 1949; the first prisoners were transferred in on Oct. 20. The population year's end was 377. At the end of the next year, 1950, the population was approaching 1,000. It did not reach the 1,500 mark until 1953. It climbed to 2,000 in 1961, then declined in the late1960's, reflecting an overall drop in the state prison census. Through most of the 1970's, it hovered between 1,800 and 1,900. Since 1982, it has been at or near its capacity -about 2,100.

The planned capacity was 2,016 "ordinary" (general confinement) cells plus 84 hospital beds on the first two floors Building 2 and 50 "segregation" (SHU) cells on the third floor "Ordinary" housing was eight outwardly identical ( blocks, each with 252 ins cells (back-to-back down middle), 42 on either side each of the three floors. On inside, the west side and east side blocks differ, a curiosity that can only be accounted as a political desire to spread wealth among as many contractors as possible. Green Haven west side blocks (A-D) are "closed" - the floors on the upper tiers extend to the walls the enormous windows. The east side blocks (E-H) are open on the upper tiers, aviary-style with 12 feet of empty space between the outer wall and narrow walkways outside cells.

B-, C- and D-Blocks on the west side were filled first. Why not A? Because for at least 10 years, A-Block was definitely not "ordinary" housing - it was for staff! An average of 75 Officers and civilian employees slept in A-Block. For the use of the six-foot-by-eight-foot, four-inch cells, the state deducted $2.50 a month from their paychecks.

The first two decades

Green Haven's half-century can for convenience be divided into three periods: quiet, chaos and quiet again. The first two decades were marked by solid development and stability.

When Green Haven opened in 1949, it was essentially a completed prison, though in need of substantial repairs. As it slowly approached full occupancy, programs were developed, some requiring supplemental construction. In 1950, Green Haven inmates began to work the farm under the supervision of officers on horseback (the horses and walkie-talkies were acquired after a runaway). Barns, pasteurization and refrigeration equipment were added, allowing the production of milk, beef, pork, vegetables, oats, wheat, ensilage and other crops.

Farming was de-emphasized in the 1970's but is on the rebound today. Green Haven produces whole milk for institutional consumption and feed for livestock. Vocational inmates recently spruced up an antique tractor which is displayed in a roadside shed next to the "Coombe Way" street sign. In recognition of their efforts to beautify the farmstead and promote dairy products, Green Haven was honored last year as a "Dairy of Distinction" by the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

The industrial program got its start in 1951 with the installation of 121 looms, supplemented later by the transfer of looms and sewing machines from Sing Sing and Attica. Before long, Green Haven was manufacturing sheets and pillow cases, institutional garments, strait jackets, canvas bags and tarpaulins, cot covers, mattress pads and American flags. The program was expanded when a second floor was added to Building 13 in 1956, and again when a second industrial building (called the Horseshoe Building after its "U" shape) was constructed in 1962.

In the 1980's and early 1990's, Green Haven's correctional industries program included an auto body shop. For two and a half years in the '90's, industry inmates also manufactured S-Block cells.

Over the years, textile and garment manufacture was phased out and replaced by an upholstery, seating and institutional furniture shop. Annual sales are in the $5.5 million to $6 million range.

The mad, mad, mad, mad '70's

When Superintendent John Zeiker learned that Albany was preparing to order the removal of the screens that separated inmates from their visitors, he said, "I won't be here when the screens come down." And he wasn't. He retired in March, 1972; the screens came down in June.

The visiting room screens were just part of what darkened Zeiker's vision of the correctional future. At the start of 1971, the state had reorganized the correctional system and the Governor had installed a progressive administration. In September, 1971, the worst prison riot in the nation's history erupted at Attica, lending urgency to the reform movement. Prisons, now called correctional facilities, were to become rehabilitative institutions, stressing programs and reintegration. Furloughs, work release, liberal visiting and correspondence, collect-call telephones, outside volunteer involvement and inmate self-determination (in the form of inmate organizations and inmate liaison committees) would be developed and strengthened. An inmate grievance program, an unprecedented formal mechanism for challenging staff actions, was initiated with Green Haven as the pilot facility.

All of them are mature elements in today's DOCS, but they didn't start out mature. Like a Frankenstein's monster, the new policies and practices sprang into life uncompromising and resistant to control. The 1970's were a kind of adolescence, with officials struggling to establish a balance. The ambivalence, confusion and turmoil of the times was felt throughout the Department-but nowhere, perhaps, more than at Green Haven.

Since its opening. Green Haven had suffered from staff turnover; it served generally as the first assignment for new Officers fresh from the Academy. The inmates, on the other hand, were prison-wise long-termers quick to take advantage of the inexperienced Officers. The turnover problem was not limited to Officers: in the five-year period from 1975 to 1980, Green Haven had six different Superintendents (not counting Everett Jones, who for family reasons turned down the post after a four-day stint).

Green Haven began to spin out of control. It was as though the floodgates had opened, in some cases almost literally. After a special event picnic on Fay Field (named for Edward M. Fay, warden from 1949 to 1965), two inmates managed to change clothes and walk out the gate with the throng of departing guests. Another example of too much, too soon came after the conversion of C and D Blocks to honor housing in 1976. Honor housing is seen today as an ally of good order and discipline, but at the time it was felt as a partial loss of control. It exempted certain inmates from the time-tested pattern of housing strictly by job assignment: instead of leaving the cells under escort, honor block inmates went off on their own. In true sorcerer's apprentice fashion, officials followed the logic, overreacted and approved "free movement" for everybody. Now the inmates could - and did - travel to and from among the blocks, dealing in contraband and avenging grudges against each other and Officers. Free movement was rescinded the next year.

Stability returns

The escape of an inmate while on an outside medical trip in 1978 was the last straw. Simultaneous investigations by DOCS Inspector General, the State Police and other law enforcement bodies unearthed patterns of lax security and improper supervision of inmates. Many heads rolled.

In the wake of the scandal, control was re-established with impressive speed and. Much of the credit for the turn-about must go to Charles Scully, appointed Superintendent in 1980, who was the right man at the right time. Scully himself gives the credit to his assistants, a remarkable group including Deputy Superintendents Dean Riley and Carl Berry and what Scully calls a "premiere team of lieutenants," among them Donald Dark, Gary Filion, Robert Seitz, James Stinson, Wayne Strack, Joseph Tanner and Charles Greiner. Greiner is Green Haven's superintendent today, and many of the others also went on to higher rank. (Parenthetically, Green Haven was also the training ground for future superintendents Jerome Patterson, William Quick, Theodore Reid, Hans Walker, James Murphy, Sunny Schriver, Joseph Costello, George Duncan, Ernest Edwards, Michael McGinnis and Ronald Miles.)

For the last two decades, thanks exemplary management and the diligence of line staff, good order and discipline have characterized Green Haven. This is not to say that Green Haven is an exception to the truism the in any prison, the potential for dang is a constant. Just a short time in Green Haven's modem era, Correction Officer Donna Payant was murdered by an inmate, and it was just one year ago this month that Deputy Superintendent for Security George Schneider suffered serious injuries when a knife-wielding inmate, without provocation or warning, attacks him in a recreation yard.

Inmate programs

Green Haven today features broad range of progressive programming that is well adjusted to security needs. In addition to work programs in correctional Industries the farm and facility maintenance, Green Haven offers academic education and 10 vocational training programs. Just recently, a federally-funded Residential Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment program was introduced in J-Block, a two story, 216-room structure built in the mid-1960's. The facility also has a counseling program for sex offenders, a counseling program for military veterans and three Aggression Replacement Training groups.

Green Haven is home to the state's Unit for the Physical Disabled. (The unit was originally established at Fishkill, medium-security facility, but was relocated to the more secure Green Haven after inmate Robert Garrow got up from his wheelchair one night and scaled Fishkill's barbed wire fence The UPD occupies the ground floor of C-Block, which along with D-Block was remodeled in 1976 by converting every three cells into two. The UPD, with 24-hour nursing coverage, is fill further modified to accommodate wheel chairs.

The state Office of Mental Health established a psychiatric satellite unit at Green Haven in the late 1970 's. The unit now occupies the second floor of Building 2. In addition to observation and evaluation of new referrals, the unit offers programming to inmates assigned to the 29-bed in-patient component as well a out-patients.

The death house

New York's only execution facilities are located in a small penthouse structure on the fourth floor of Building 2 at Green Haven. It was modified in 1969, when the electric chair was moved there from Sing Sing. The electric chair was never used at Green Haven and since 1998 has been on loan to a museum in Alexandria, Virginia.

New York's new death penalty law specifies lethal injection as the method of execution. Green Haven's death house now consists of two cells with outdoor recreation pens, a visiting room, a viewing room for witnesses and the execution room with the gurney.

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The Electric Chair May 20 1975