Critical Opportunities for Women Will Be Lost as Governor Continues Trend of Closing Minimum-Security and Downstate Prisons

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From CA press release:

NEW YORK, NY (April 1, 2013) – The New York State Legislature has agreed to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal to close Bayview and Beacon Correctional Facilities, two of the state’s prisons for women.  This will bring the total number of prisons closed under Governor Cuomo’s watch to nine.

While the Correctional Association is in support of closing prisons, the Association advocated for the Governor to halt his efforts to shutter Bayview and Beacon until there was a plan to make sure that women would not lose the critical opportunities these prisons provided for women to stay connected to their families and prepare for a successful transition home.

In recent years, New York State prison closures have disproportionately focused on facilities located in downstate New York and on minimum-security prisons.  Five of the facilities designated for closure over the past two years (Arthur Kill, Bayview, Beacon, Fulton, and Mid-Orange Correctional Facilities) have been located in the downstate region.  Of the 13 prisons designated for closure over the past five years, seven were minimum-security.

Beacon, located in the Hudson Valley, is the state’s only general minimum-security prison for women. “Minimum-security prisons offer a safer and more humane setting and facilitate better preparation for reentry,” said Soffiyah Elijah, the executive director of the Correctional Association.  “When Beacon closes, incarcerated women will be forced to serve their time in medium- or maximum-security prisons.”

Beacon is also home to the state’s only work crew program for women.  This program, which allows people in prison to perform activities like painting community centers, is one of only four ways an incarcerated person can earn merit time and early release from prison. There are no plans as of yet to transfer this program to another prison.

Bayview, located on 20th street and 11th avenue in Manhattan, is the only women’s prison located in the New York City area, where nearly half of the state’s female prison population is from.  Before it was evacuated due to Superstorm Sandy, Bayview held more than 150 women, over two-thirds of whom called the New York City area home prior to their incarceration.

“Moving mothers to prisons that are farther away from their homes only increases the trauma that their children experience,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Women in Prison Project.  “It also increases the risk that a mother in prison will lose touch with, or even parental rights to, her children.”

“Keeping family ties strong during incarceration does more than just help families stay together, it also makes prisons safer and communities safer by keeping people out of prison once they come home,” said Kraft-Stolar.

One bright spot is that women will not lose the opportunity to participate in New York City-based work release, a program which allows incarcerated people to work in the community as they prepare to return home.  This is because the Governor and legislature have agreed to establish 50 work release beds for women at Edgecombe Correctional Facility, a men’s minimum-security prison in upper Manhattan.

“Work release yields the best results when people are employed in their home communities,” said Elijah. “We are encouraged that the Governor and legislature have made sure that many women can make the best use of this program, which saves millions by driving recidivism down and allowing participants to contribute to the local economy.”

The Correctional Association urges the Governor to focus future closures on maximum-security prisons not located in the downstate area.  State corrections controls the security classification of people in its custody, designating individuals upon their admission to prison as requiring “minimum-security,” “medium-security,” or “maximum-security” classification.  A more effective periodic review of incarcerated individuals’ classifications throughout the duration of their sentence could result in reduced security levels for many incarcerated people, effectively freeing up maximum-security prisons for closure.

The Association continues to urge the Governor to reinvest the savings from the most recent closures, $80.8 million over two years, into expanding alternative-to-incarceration programs and replicating the opportunities that incarcerated women will lose when Bayview and Beacon shut their doors for good.

 

MORE INFO

  • The number of women in New York’s prisons has dropped by 38% over the past 15 years. 
  • There are currently more than 2,300 women incarcerated in New York State prisons. Approximately 70% are mothers.
  • An estimated 4,000 children have a mother in a New York State prison; nearly 2,000 of those children are likely living in the New York City area. 
  • Currently, 37% of women in New York’s prisons are housed at Albion Correctional Facility, which is 8 hours from New York City.

 

ABOUT THE CORRECTIONAL ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK

Founded in 1844, the Correctional Association of New York is an independent non-profit organization advocating for a more humane and effective criminal justice system and a more just and equitable society. One of only two private organizations in the country with unrestricted access to prisons, the Association has a legislative mandate to inspect conditions of confinement in New York and report its findings to the legislature, the public, and the press. Through coalition-building and leadership training programs for formerly incarcerated people, the Correctional Association works to build the power of the communities most negatively affected by criminal justice policy.