Prisoner advocates foresee problems after shuttering Bayview and Beacon

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From Legislative Gazette:


The Beacon and Bayview women’s correctional facilities will close as part of the approved state budget, though advocates who fought to keep them open say there is still one “bright spot” in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan.

The only positive outcome — with respect to the two correctional facilities closing, according to Correctional Association of New York Women in Prison Project Director Tamar Kraft-Stolar — is the 50 beds Cuomo and legislators agreed to establish so women could continue their work release program at the Edgecombe Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison for men located in Upper Manhattan.

When the closures were first announced, the Correctional Association — which typically advocates for prison closures — spoke out against these two facilities closing because of the “critical” opportunities Beacon and Bayview offer women to stay connected to their families and prepare for a successful re-entry after their sentences are completed.

The Beacon Correctional Facility, located in Dutchess County, is the state’s only general minimum-security prison for women and the only prison to offer a Work Crew Program.

Work Crew is a program that allows people in prison to perform activities like painting community centers and is only one of four ways an inmate can earn “merit time” and early release from prison, according to Kraft-Stolar.

Kraft-Stolar said in an interview that other minimum-security prisons, besides Beacon, are specialized and do not apply to women “across the board,” yet another reason the closing of Beacon is a major concern.

The problem with the shuttering-down of Bayview in midtown Manhattan, Kraft-Stolar said, is that it was close to home for nearly half of the state’s female prison population and the facility also had a downstate work release program. Bayview has been temporarily closed since inmates were evacuated before Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last fall.

“Work release yields the best results when people are employed in their home communities,” said Soffiyah Elijah, executive director of the Correctional Association.

Kraft-Stolar explained that Bayview is critical because of its location, noting that 4,000 children statewide have a mother in prison and 2,000 of those children are from the New York City area. Kraft-Stolar said nearly half of the 2,300 female inmates in New York state are from the New York City area.

She said it was a mistake for the state to move forward with the closures before a solid plan was put in place.

Minimum-security prisons have two purposes: people convicted of less serious crimes can serve their time, or part of their time, in a more “humane environment” and the prisons can be a stepping stone for someone in a maximum-security facility to earn their way to a less restrictive prison classification, as explained by Kraft-Stolar.

Elijah said minimum-security prisons offer a safer and more humane setting and facilitate better preparation for re-entry into society.

Sen. Gipson, has secured $6 million to help redevelop the Beacon prison site. Photo by AP.

“When Beacon closes, incarcerated women will be forced to serve their time in medium- or maximum-security prisons,” Elijah said.

For many women, relocating to a medium or maximum-security prison due to Beacon’s closure, Kraft-Stolar said, “will feel like a step backwards as opposed to a step towards their releases.”

However, she said the Correctional Association is not worried that it will affect women’s release dates.

Concerned with the economic implications of the closures on their districts, Sen. Terry Gipson, D-Rhinebeck, and Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Newburgh, spoke out against the governor’s Public Protection bill which proposed the closures.

In a statement from his office, Skartados said he would prefer that the Beacon Correctional Facility be made more efficient rather than closing down and eliminating jobs.

“But now that the decision was made we have a responsibility to act quickly to turn it into an economic benefit for the region. That means to bring the local government of Beacon together with state economic development resources in a joint effort to find the best use for the property,” Skartados said. He also went on to say that the Assembly’s proposed budget would have kept Beacon open.

Dedicated to working with the governor to keep the “economic upswing in Beacon alive and well,” Gipson managed to secure $6 million in re-purposing funds for the Beacon Correctional Facility.

“Although I am disappointed with the authorization to close the Beacon correctional facility, once it became clear that the prison could not be kept open, I worked closely with Gov. Cuomo to secure money to re-purpose the Beacon facility,” Gipson said.

Gipson said the allocation of funds to re-purpose the facility shows that the governor is committed to growing jobs and the economy.

“I’m pleased he has stepped forward for the people of Beacon and the Hudson Valley,” Gipson said. “Going forward, the governor and I will be working with the Mayor and the people of Beacon to develop a plan that will serve the city, create jobs now and ensure that Beacon will continue to be a shining example of the rebirth of the Hudson Valley,” he said.

Gipson thanked both Cuomo and Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, for “working to make sure that the revitalization of Beacon stays on track.”

“Through his hard work, dedication and perseverance on this issue, Senator Gipson made this allocation for job retention and economic development possible,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Kraft-Stolar said the association’s advocacy to keep Beacon and Bayview open “wasn’t just about programs” because programs can be moved and shifted, “but about locations and security status.”

“We advocated that work release be shifted downstate because it works best when prisons are close to home,” she said.