Last year, Michael Bukowski, a guard at the Ulster Correctional Facility upstate, heard inmate Ramon Fabian talking during a morning head count and yelled for him to shut up. When the count was over, Bukowski put Fabian against the wall out of sight of surveillance cameras, had him spread his legs, and kicked him in the groin. That afternoon, prison personnel drove Fabian to an Albany hospital to have part of his right testicle removed.

The assault was the beginning of a byzantine process, outlined by the New York Times, that more often than not, allows brutish prison guards to keep their jobs despite strong evidence of wrongdoing.

Days after the attack, Bukowski lied to a state Corrections Department investigator, saying that he raised his voice at Fabian after the count and Fabian left "crying a little," but within 10 days, management concluded he used excessive force and moved to fire him. A year later, he is facing an assault charge, but still works for the state. The Times reports that guards' strong union contract is partially to blame:

Since 2010, the state has sought to fire 30 prison guards accused of abusing inmates through a convoluted arbitration process that is required under the union contract. Officials have prevailed only eight times, according to records of disciplinary cases released under state Freedom of Information Law requests.

Those records show that most abuse allegations never reach the arbitration level: Another 80 cases brought against corrections officers, sergeants and lieutenants since 2010 were settled directly with their unions for penalties other than dismissal, such as suspension.

There are also the arbitrators, who make $1,000 to $1,800 a day, and whose decisions can't be overturned by a judge, even if they get facts wrong. An arbitrator in Bukowski's case ruled that he did use excessive force, but that he should be suspended for 120 days instead of fired, because it was the first time he'd gotten into this kind of trouble. In a rare move, the Department of Corrections bucked the decision, saying Bukowski couldn't be allowed back on the job, so the guards union sued on his behalf. The union lost but is now appealing, and Bukowski is still collecting a paycheck (guards make $46,990 after a year; Bukowski has been on the force for seven).

He is set to go to trial for the misdemeanor assault charge in October, but even if found guilty, state law would allow him to keep working.