Correctional Association statement in support of plans announced by NYS governor and legislature to close 3,700 adult prison beds, downsize youth facility beds, and enact juvenile justice reforms

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Contact: Soffiyah Elijah
Executive Director
Correctional Association
212-254-5700, ext. 305

Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, released a public statement today expressing the organization’s strong support for plans announced yesterday by Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to close 3,700 adult prison beds, downsize the state juvenile prison system by more than 30 percent, and invest in alternative to detention and incarceration programs for young people in the juvenile justice system.

On adult prison downsizing:

We applaud the Governor and State legislative leaders’ plans to close 3,700 prison beds. This represents the most significant commitment to date by elected officials to reduce the state’s excess prison capacity. Closing prisons is long overdue: New York’s prison population has dropped by over 15,000 people in the past decade and the state system has nearly 8,000 empty beds maintained at enormous cost – one that our state literally can no longer afford. Also during the past decade, New York’s crime rate has dropped by 28%, disproving the notion that locking up more people leads to safer communities.
To ensure that New York continues to make communities safer, we urge the Governor and legislative leaders to reinvest funds saved by prison closures in community-based alternative-to-incarceration and reentry programs and needed services for incarcerated individuals. Such reinvestment will maximize New York’s ability to reduce recidivism, decrease its prison population and maintain safe prisons. It will also help the state provide necessary services to the 56,000 individuals currently in prison and offer the nearly 27,000 individuals released each year from state prison the skills and support they need to maintain healthy and productive lives.

We know that the Governor will consider certain criteria in making his decision about which prisons to close, including the operational costs of the facility, physical plant quality and economic impact of the facility closure on the surrounding community. It is critical for the Governor to also consider the following in making his decisions:

1. The existence and quality of academic, vocational and rehabilitative programs in the facility.
2. The existence and quality of medical and mental health programs and services in the facility.
3. The existence and quality of specialized programs and services in the facility.
4. The proximity of the facility to the geographic area in which the majority of incarcerated people lived prior to their incarceration and where their families likely still reside, and to where they will likely return.
5. The ability of the facility to keep incarcerated people and staff safe.
6. The quality and efficiency of basic operations and services at the facility.

Given these guiding criteria, we strongly urge the Governor not to close prisons located near urban areas where the majority of the state’s incarcerated people are from – particularly New York City and its suburbs, home to more than 60% of the prison population prior to incarceration.

Placing incarcerated individuals in facilities where they can more easily maintain family and community ties helps lessen the trauma of parental incarceration on children and increases the likelihood of successful reentry after release. We also urge the Governor not to close facilities that operate reentry units or work release programs – two of the state’s most effective programs to aid individuals’ successfully transition back to the community after prison.

On juvenile justice reforms:

We applaud the agreement reached by the Governor, Senate and Assembly to close more than 30% of Office of Children and Family Services’ (OCFS) youth facilities. The state juvenile justice system is currently operating at approximately 50% capacity. For far too long, the practice of maintaining empty OCFS facilities has cost New York’s taxpayers millions of dollars and undermined the state’s ability to adequately fund useful programs and services for children. We are heartened that our state government has begun to change this harmful practice. We urge state leaders to redirect resulting savings into improving services and programs for children already in the juvenile justice system as well as into services and programs that prevent children from entering the system altogether.

We further commend the Executive and Legislature for taking historic steps to promote the use of alternatives to detention and incarceration for young people. The average annual cost of incarcerating one youth in an OCFS facility is $265,000. Children incarcerated in state facilities have recidivism rates of 81% to 89%. Alternatives to detention and incarceration for youth offer children the assistance and services they need to safely remain in their communities and result in far lower recidivism rates than incarceration – all at a cost of only $5,000 to $18,000 per child per year.

Through the budget process, the Governor, Senate and Assembly have demonstrated their shared commitment to downsizing unnecessary youth facilities and increasing the use of cost-effective and outcome-effective alternative programs. We encourage state government officials to continue to build on and strengthen their impressive commitment. New York State now has a unique opportunity to deepen its investment in children, families and communities and to shift from a punitive model to one rooted in principles of positive youth development and best practices. Elected officials should seize this opportunity to improve the lives of children and families, increase public safety, and become national leaders for juvenile justice reform.