Governor Cuomo announced four more prison closures this summer to take effect in mid-2014.
That brings the number of prison closures to 15, along with seven youth detention centers, since the governor took office. He’s cited a declining prison population due to a downturn in violent crime. Also, reform of the strict Rockefeller era drug laws has resulted in far fewer drug-related convictions and lengthy sentences.
The prison guard union has already expressed its dismay. Donn Rowe is President of the Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association of New York State.
“My membership is outraged at this point,” Rowe said. He predicts that officers and other prison employees will leave the state.
At the same time he announced the prison closures, the governor also announced the shut down of four centers for the developmentally disabled in Schenectady, Binghamton, Brooklyn and Queens.
And the Cuomo Administration is consolidating 24 in-patient psychiatric centers into 15 regional institutions. They will be rebranded as Regional Centers of Excellence.
Those closings are generally supported by advocates for the disabled and the mentally ill. EJ McMahon with the fiscally conservative think tank the Empire Center says the trend is “significant."
“The fact is the state has more institutions than it can afford, and he needs to cut back,” said McMahon. “I think it’s a step in the right direction.”
Unlike some of the Governor’s other programs, including his tax free zone proposal and Women’s Equality Act, the governor has taken these steps with little fanfare.
McMahon says one of the reasons is that it’s not always politically popular to announce that a state-run facility is closing down. Especially if jobs might be at stake, although the governor’s correctional agency says all those working at prisons slated to close will be offered other jobs.
“He buried the announcement on a Friday afternoon,” said McMahon. “Which is basically a way to ensure it gets as little media coverage as possible. Which is probably testimony to the political difficulty of this.”