Two women’s prisons on the chopping block

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From Legislative Gazette:

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By TG Branfalt, Jr.

Bayview and Beacon women’s correctional facilities are on the chopping block in the Executive Budget, which if passed, would mark the eighth and ninth prisons closed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Beacon prison is set to close due to what Cuomo called “inefficiency.” Beacon’s total staff-cost-per-inmate is $69,863, which far exceeds the state benchmark of $34,193 per inmate. Camp Beacon, as it is known, is part of the larger Fishkill Correctional Facility, which would remain open.

Bayview’s total staff-cost-per-inmate is $74,385, also well above the state’s goal.

Bayview, located on the corner of West 20th Street and 11th Avenue in New York City has been sitting empty since its inmates were evacuated before Superstorm Sandy. The inmates were sent to Bedford Hills, a maximum security facility, the medium security Taconic Correctional Facility and Camp Beacon.

The New York City area is home to nearly half of the state’s female inmate population, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and more than two-thirds of Bayview’s inmates were New York City residents prior to incarceration. Bayview’s location allowed many of the women to stay closer to their families while serving their time.

“The stakes are high for families separated by prison, especially when that prison is far away from home,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project. “Children are harmed when they can’t see their mothers, and mothers risk not only losing touch with their children, but also sometimes losing their parental rights altogether.”

Nearly 70 percent of incarcerated women are mothers, according to information from DOCCS.

Beacon is a minimum security facility and is one of only two women’s facilities in the state still offering a community work program allowing inmates to earn merit time for early release. The other is Albion Correctional Facility near Rochester, which is nearly eight hours away from New York City. Fulton Prison, closed in 2011, was also a facility with a work release program.

“Work release really works best when people are employed in their home communities,” Kraft-Stolar said. “Reducing work release is not effective. One of the most effective programs DOCCS has to prepare people for successful re-entry.”

The number of inmates in work release programs statewide has dropped by 95 percent in the last 15 years, according to the Correctional Association of New York.

Kraft-Stolar said the conditions at Beacon are more humane than its medium and maximum security counterparts.

The Correctional Association does generally support closing prisons, however, Kraft-Stolar said closing Beacon and Bayview, which are relatively close to New York City and inmates’ families, will cause the disappearance of “some of the best opportunities to maintain a family connection and prepare for successful re-entry.”

“There are aspects of Bedford and Taconic that are better than Bayview,” Kraft-Stolar said. “But there still is that central piece of location.”

The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Donn Rowe also expressed concerns regarding the governor’s proposal and the effect it would have on female inmates housed at the locations.

“If approved, the governor’s budget would close the only remaining female correctional facility south of the Tappan Zee Bridge,” Rowe said in a statement. “… Bayview and Beacon have alcohol and substance abuse programs, in addition to work release programs, both of which help inmates re-enter society.”

In the statement, Rowe also expressed concern for the relocation of inmates if the two facilities are closed, saying it would lead to overpopulation.

Kraft-Stolar disagreed, and said women’s prisons are operating well below capacity.

According to numbers provided by DOCCS, there are currently six female facilities in operation with 2,268 inmates and 3,078 available beds. The female prisoner population declined 40 percent from 3,842 to 2,301 between Dec. 31, 1996 and Dec 31, 2012.