The Correctional Association of NY applauds New York State’s plan to close seven prisons eliminating 3,800 prison beds and saving millions of taxpayer dollars, and urges further downsizing

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

The Correctional Association of New York applauds Governor Cuomo for his announcement yesterday to close seven prisons, the most significant commitment to prison reduction since the prison building boom of the 1980s.  The plan includes four minimum-security facilities for men: Buffalo Work Release; Camp Georgetown; Summit Shock; and Fulton Work Release, in addition to three medium-security facilities for men: Arthur Kill; Mid-Orange; and Oneida.

Closing prisons is long overdue: New York’s prison population has dropped by over 15,500 people in the past decade and the state system has nearly 8,000 empty beds maintained at enormous cost.  These closures will eliminate 3,800 empty prison beds and save taxpayers $72 million in 2011-12 and $112 million in 2012-13.

While we commend the Governor for his commitment to eliminating excess prison beds, we are concerned that approximately 50% of these beds are located in or near New York City, even though New York City prisons only house 25% of the total state prison population. Therefore, the closures affect downstate prisons at a rate three times greater than prisons upstate. More than 60% of the state’s prison population is from New York City and its suburbs. Closing downstate prisons will result in incarcerating even more people far from their homes and prevent them from maintaining family and community ties, which lessen the trauma of parental incarceration on children and lead to greater success post-release.  The closure of Arthur Kill, an effectively run prison with numerous programs and one of the few facilities where lifers and long termers from New York City can be housed close to their loved ones, is particularly troubling.

It is also significant that these prison closures will eliminate one-third of the state’s work release beds – an already underutilized program. Work release helps people in prison gain critical employment skills to prepare them for a smooth transition back to their communities; however, the number of participants in New York’s work release programs has already dropped by over 25,000 over the course of 12 years to only 1,900 in 2010.

We are hopeful that yesterday’s announcement is merely the beginning, and that the Governor will build on these positive steps by further downsizing prison beds in New York State. We urge the Governor to consider the following critical criteria in making future downsizing decisions: (1) the existence and quality of rehabilitative programs and specialized services in the facility; (2) the existence and quality of medical and mental health services in the facility; (3) the proximity of the facility to the geographic area in which the majority of incarcerated people lived prior to their incarceration and where they will likely return; and (4) the ability of the facility to keep incarcerated people and staff safe. We also expect that maximum-security and women’s prisons will be included in future closures.

The Governor can take additional measures to further reduce the prison population without sacrificing public safety, including: diverting some individuals from prison into alternative to incarceration programs; releasing incarcerated individuals earlier in their sentences after participation in prison programs that have better prepared them for successful reintegration into their communities; and reducing the number of formerly incarcerated individuals who are returned to prison for technical parole violations.

We commend Governor Cuomo for his dedication to eliminating excess prison capacity, moving away from an unjust overreliance on prisons as fuel for economic growth and ensuring more efficient use of taxpayer funds.  We urge the Governor, along with New York State policymakers, to build on these significant steps and further reduce the state’s prison population and capacity. By doing so, we can reduce the state’s continued costly and misguided overuse of incarceration and free up much-needed funds to support in-prison programs, alternative to incarceration programs and other community-based services that build healthy, safe and productive individuals, families and communities.