Established 1935.

Changing Inmate Population

When Woodbourne opened in 1935, it was called the Woodbourne Institution for Defective Delinquents. It was built to house 838 inmates in two 134 cell cellblocks, A and B blocks today, and in seven 88 man dormitories located in what are now E and F wings. 240 additional cells in C and D blocks were added in the 1960s.

The "Mental Deficiency Law" of 1919 authorized indefinite life sentences for mental defectives "charged with, arraigned for or convicted of criminal offenses." The earliest inmates were often sentenced to such indefinite periods of incarceration, R_____ H_____ for throwing a bowl of pudding at his grandmother and others for petty larceny or illegal entry, deeds that today would scarcely attract the attention of the criminal justice system.

The original operating budget of the facility was based on an inmate population of only 400 with less than normal intelligence, but continued overcrowding in other facilities forced both the housing of more inmates and the mixing into the population of inmates of normal intelligence. State law demanded, however, that the two groups be separated to prevent the mentally retarded inmates from becoming victims of the inmates with normal intelligence.

The patterns of overcrowding decreased during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War; and inmates of normal intelligence were not confined here during the first two and Woodbourne was turned over to the Narcotics Addiction Control Commission for much of the Vietnam War. Overcrowding reemerged in prisons, however, when hostilities ceased. In September 1967, Woodbourne became part of the Narcotics Addiction Control Commission (NACC), a commission created during the administration of Governor Nelson Rockefeller to attempt to combat the rising scourge of heroin addiction.

Many of the inmates, called residents then, were either committed to the commission under civil law by the petition of relatives or even by their own choice, while others were sentenced by the courts to the custody of NACC for a term of treatment in lieu of a prison sentence for their crimes. Within the NACC system, Woodbourne was considered the most secure facility, but it had or put in place many more academic and vocational education offerings and a more structured counseling department than other facilities in the NACC system.

Warden's Card of R_____ H______ who served more than a year at Woodbourne.

By 1975 the name of the overseeing agency had changed from the Narcotics Addiction Control Commission to the Drug Abuse Control Commission to the Office of Drug Abuse Services. While there were many positive results from the treatment model, it was also an expensive one to provide, and the failures received widespread attention from the press and political leaders who questioned the allocation of funds.

Not unpredictably, as the Vietnam War ended, the prison population again began to swell and DOCS again faced overcrowding. Residential treatment was dropped from ODAS' provided services, and in September 1975 Woodbourne returned to DOCS, classified as a Level 3 (secure) Medium A facility.

Such a population profile would logically be seen as potential source for real management difficulties, but this has never been the case. The NACC legacy of intensive programming and the DOCS emphasis on structure and security have combined to produce a unique management style which enables Woodbourne to be among the lowest in the State in terms of assaults on staff, disturbances and other unusual incidents, inmate grievances per capita, disciplinary actions, and other indicators of violence and disorder. Although often said jokingly, "the Woodbourne way" of doing things has minimized the problems which have plagued other correctional facilities.

Inmates with sensorial disabilities, hearing or visual impairments, are becoming more common in corrections, and, as with the test case for double celling, Woodbourne again has been the choice to meet DOCS' need. In 1994, medium eligible inmates with such disabilities were transferred from Eastern Correctional. Currently, about 5% of Woodbourne's population have either visual or hearing impairments. Three vocational rehabilitation counselors work with them in a resource program designed to help disabled inmates mainstream into the facility's programs and reintegrate into society.

Because of its security, Woodbourne has also been called upon to house high profile inmates. In 1982, four people murdered a Brinks security guard during an armored car robbery in Rockland County. The suspects, two men and two women members of the radical Weathermen, were deemed too dangerous to house in any county jail, where the possibility of their escape with outside help loomed.

Woodbourne was selected to house them in the eight months of their trial because the facility has a Special Housing Unit with cells suitable to house both men and women out of sight of one another, it would be very difficult to break them out of, and it was reasonably close to the Rockland County site of the trial.

Security in and around the facility was so tight that one local resident who was rowing down the Neversink River found himself surrounded by armed DOCS, FBI, and Rockland County Sheriff personnel suspicious that he might be planning to free the prisoners. All three agencies worked together until, after the conviction of all four suspects, they were moved from Woodbourne to maximum security prisons on September 22, 1982.

Woodbourne also houses the man considered New York's most dangerous inmate, Willie Bosket, whose life and family history have been chronicled by Pulitzer Prize winner Fox Butterfield in his book All God's Children. Bosket has been incarcerated here since 1988 in a special cell made from three of the cells used to house the Brinks suspects. He is not permitted outside the three-cell complex, one living-sleeping, one showering, one visiting, except for one hour of solitary recreation in the heavily monitored SHU recreation area. His actions are monitored twenty-four hours a day and recorded on videotape.

Although the sentence for his original crime in 1984 would have seen Bosket serving a sentence of 31/2--7 years, his convictions for assaults against staff and other inmates since his incarceration, including the 1988 attempted murder of Correctional Officer Earl Porter at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, will keep Bosket in Special Housing until at least 2046 and in prison until at least 2062.

Today Woodbourne houses 981 inmates in 500 cells, 56 of which are double bunked, and 402 in six dormitories. The dormitories, too, have double bunks in each of the first five cubicles. The balance of the beds are in the 14 cell Special Housing Disciplinary Unit and 9 bed infirmary. The Governor's 1999-2000 recommended budget combines Woodbourne's infirmary with Sullivan Correctional's, so those beds could possibly be eliminated from our total housing capacity.

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