DOCS’ Prison Closure Plan Falls Victim to Albany Politics

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As a longtime advocate for reducing New York’s prison population and capacity, the CA welcomed a Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) announcement in January stating its intent to close four state prisons. Unfortunately, the governor and state legislative leaders restored funding for the facilities in the State’s final approved budget. Like the Office of Children and Family Services–which the same day announced its own plans to close six juvenile facilities–DOCS cited underutilization as a driving force behind its plan.

New York’s prison population has declined by about 13% since 1999, and the closures promised to save the state over $70 million over the next two years, while maintaining positions for current DOCS employees. The CA also approved of DOCS’ pledge to divert cost-savings to services that prepare people in prison for a healthy and crime-free return to society, such as mental health services, re-entry initiatives, and programs that help incarcerated people maintain family ties.

Concerned about job losses in upstate communities–in spite of DOCS’ promise not to cut personnel–local politicians, the correction officers union, and the State Senate’s leadership insisted on keeping the institutions open. Determined to pass an on-time budget–a goal they ultimately failed to achieve–the governor and Assembly leadership acceded to this pressure. Considering New York’s budget difficulties, forcing DOCS to continue operating its underutilized facilities makes little fiscal sense and raises serious moral concerns.

“In restoring funding for the facilities, New York, in effect, openly supports a jobs program based on the warehousing of human beings,” said CA Executive Director Bob Gangi. “Governor Paterson missed an opportunity–he permitted political considerations to trump his conscience. Next time we expect him to reverse that principle.”