Shattered teeth. Punctured lungs. Broken bones. Over a dozen years, New York State officials have documented the results of attacks by hundreds of prison guards on the people in their custody.

But when the state corrections department has tried to use this evidence to fire guards, it has failed 90% of the time, an investigation by The Marshall Project has found.

The review of prison disciplinary records found more than 290 cases in which the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision tried to fire officers or supervisors it said physically abused prisoners or covered up mistreatment that ranged from group beatings to withholding food. The agency considered these employees a threat to the safety and security of prisons.

Yet officers were ousted in just 28 cases. The state tried to fire one guard for using excessive force in three separate incidents within three years — and failed each time. He remains on the state prisons’ payroll.

An officer who broke his baton hitting a prisoner 35 times, even after the man was handcuffed, was not fired. Neither were the guards who beat a prisoner at Attica Correctional Facility so badly that he needed 13 staples to close gashes in his scalp. Nor were the officers who battered a man with mental illness, injuring him from face to groin. The man hanged himself the next day.

In dozens of documented cases involving severe injuries of prisoners, including three deaths, the agency did not even try to discipline officers, state records show.

For decades, the workings of the prison discipline system had been hidden from public view under a secrecy law adopted at the urging of the state’s powerful law enforcement unions. But after the Legislature repealed that law in 2020, The Marshall Project obtained more than 5,600 records of disciplinary cases against prison employees — for issues ranging from physical abuse of prisoners to sleeping on the job — dating to 2010.

Read the full article about New York prison guards by Alysia Santo, Joseph Neff, and Tom Meagher at The Marshall Project.