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Prison Towns Worry Closures Could Upend Communities

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to shutter as many as 10 prisons statewide in order to cut costs, but officials in the primarily upstate New York communities that house correctional facilities are concerned about job loss.

The governor has argued that using prisons as job development programs is immoral and that mothballing the facilities is about saving money. Closing unneeded prisons would save more than $72 million next year and $112 million the following year, according to budget document released Wednesday.

"We are not talking about releasing prisoners," said Cuomo, who is offering a $10 million redevelopment fund to communities facing prison closures. "We are talking about consolidating prisons and unused space."

The Cuomo administration, which will help create a new panel that will identify what prisons ought to be closed after the budget is approved, said New York now has more than 3,500 prison bed in minimum- and medium-security prisons that sit empty.

State Senator Betty Little from Queensbury has several prisons in her district and said it's difficult not knowing how closures could affect her community.

"I don't know, and it is a concern," she said.  "If you're closing a small facility with 200 or 300 beds, you're going to have to have more facility closures."

Donn Rowe, president of NYSCOPBA, the union that represents corrections officers, declined to be interviewed Wednesday but argued in a statement that prisons are too full and closures could result in "overcrowding and dangerous conditions."

But prison reform advocate Bob Gangi praised the plan and said concerns about overcrowding are unfounded.

"This proposal to close as many as 3,500 beds is a very positive move in terms of creating a more efficient and human prison system," Gangi said.

Governors have been trying to close prisons for years, beginning with George Pataki in the 90s. They have been thwarted by Republicans in the state Senate, who have generally viewed correctional facilities as an important source of upstate jobs.

One possible game-changer this year is a promise by Cuomo to compensate towns that lose prisons.

"We understand your situation and your problem: a community that is going to deal with the loss of a prison will receive a $10 million economic transformation program grant," he said.

State Senator Patty Ritchie from Heuvelton also has half a dozen state prisons in her district.  She said that redevelopment fund might convince some prison towns that it’s time to consider a different future.

"There might be some areas where the $10 million economic boost would be more appealing than keeping the facility open," she said.

Cuomo also wants the legislature to eliminate a 12-month waiting period now required before prisons can close.  If he gets his way, corrections facilities could start shutting down as early as this summer.

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Comments [3]

Susan from NY

Joanne from Nevada is absolutely right! When first time offenders are being sent to NY state prison for 7-10 years, for petty crimes of theft or getting drunk and getting into a fight it's insane!
Look at the prison terms Ulster county Judge Donald Williams is handing out. Seven to ten years for first time offenders!
He's one of the many culprits that enhance charges and then inflate prison terms in order to keep jobs for some NY areas. Plus, the guards are the MAIN problem with violence in those places! They are the ones that keep the stress levels high and make a wreck of the inmates. Who do you think takes care of inmates after they're destroyed by the state, and then released?
Their families! Just like their families foot the bill for all of the price-gouged fees and charges they bill the inmates for, and then the state also takes the few dollars a month they make as SLAVE LABOR, so that they don't even have enough left to buy toothpaste or soap!
Slavery, rape and abuse are illegal everywhere EXCEPT the prison system!
Wake up people! It's a class war against the poor. When's the last time you heard of someone who can pay them off being sent to prison? They only get probation because money talks! There are bigger crooks on the outside of the prisons, than on the inside!

May. 09 2011 10:15 AM
Mike from WNY

Smoke and mirrors. Cuomo is playing the public at the expense of safety. They are in jail for a reason. Crime is not falling, the Govt. is simply not jailing those who should be and letting out sooner those who shouldn't be. Wow can't wait to leave this crazy mixed up state !

Feb. 14 2011 11:56 PM
Joanne from Nevada

WHat do you mean not releasing prisoners. Mr. Cuomo do you understand that many of these prisoners where wrongfully convicted to fill these prisons. How do you people sleep at night. When enough evidence was found that it has to open a wrongful conviction task force when is it time to accually do something about it. I never thought there was true evil. The way New York imprisons it's own people so other people have jobs. Well all I can say is karma. All involved at some point must pay the piper.

Feb. 03 2011 11:05 PM

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