The Department of Corrections plan to close four upstate prisons due to a reduction in crime has angered district lawmakers. In 2011 the department closed seven prisons statewide. The new plan is to close four additional prisons. Sen. Kathleen Marchione said the closing of the prisons is a disappointment and calls for a plan of action to ensure public safety. Photo by AP.
August 06, 2013Upstate lawmakers are angry after the Department of Corrections announced plans to close four prisons next year.
In a July 26 press release, Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Commissioner Anthony Annucci announced the closing of Butler, Chateaugay, Monterey Shock, and Mt. McGregor prisons, due to New York's shrinking prison population.
"In response to a reduced crime rate that has shrunk our inmate population, we are continuing to right size the state's costly prison system and saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually," said Annucci. "This reform plan was made with careful consideration and detailed analysis to ensure we are not impacting the safety of each facility's employees and the public."
According to Annucci, closing the prisons would save New York taxpayers $30 million annually and includes no layoffs for prison workers instead purposes to transition them into nearby facilities; however, lawmakers feel the plan would hurt communities already struggling economically.
"I was blindsighted by the decision to close," said Sen. Thomas O'Mara, R-Big Flats. "Last year was the 25th anniversary of Monterey Shock. It was praised. What changed in one year?"
Monterey Shock was New York state's first shock facility, a program that resembles a military style regimen that focuses on discipline, physical training, work, and education. At its 25th anniversary celebration, the Department of Correction praised the program's unique blend of counseling and discipline resulting in a low recidivism rate and savings of $1.3 billion for the state.
O'Mara criticized the Department of Corrections calling the agency "top-heavy" for their decision to close more prisons but hire more administrators.
Sen. Kathleen Marchione, R-Halfmoon, released a statement about the Mt. McGregor's closing, calling the decision disappointing and urging protection of the workers and host community.
"Today's announcement by the Cuomo Administration that the Mt. McGregor Correction Facility has been targeted for closure is disappointing and demands an action plan — and actual follow through — that will ensure the public safety professionals working at the facility are protected and the financial needs of the host communities are met," said Marchione.
Mt. McGregor, located in Saratoga County, is a medium security prison housing 445 prisoners with a staff of 320.
In 2011, the state closed seven prisons in Erie, Schoharie, Madison, Bronx, Orange, Richmond and Oneida counties. The closings were estimated to save $184 million in tax revenue.
Since 2009, a total of 11 prisons have been closed, with 2,000 correctional positions lost.
In the DOCCS announcement, Annucci notes that crime overall has dropped 15 percent statewide and there has been a 71 percent reduction in drug offenders in custody. Violent crime such as murder and assault have seen 13 percent reduction. The overall prison population has fallen from 71,600 to 54,600.
Also slated for closure is Chateaugay correctional facility, a former drug and substance abuse treatment facility, now houses mostly parole violators with short holds.
"It's a total surprise," said Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Plattsburgh. "I think it's a mistake to close this prison. It's a vital part of the economy. When nobody would take prisons, the North Country stepped up, now we're facing the third closing in four years."
The Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit with legislative authority to inspect state prisons, has previously supported the decision to cut back on state prisons, but worry that the state is closing too many minimum and medium security prisons.
"Last Friday, DOCCS announced the closure of four additional prisons — one minimum-security and three medium-security facilities. As always, the Correctional Association is supportive of prison closures," said Executive Director Soffiyah Elijah. "However, a growing concern is that as the Governor continues with his trend of closing minimum- and medium-security prisons there will be fewer lower security facilities available to move people who are currently designated to maximum-security, if their classifications are reviewed and reduced. This means that those people will not have the important opportunity to adjust to a less restrictive environment before their release to the community, thereby making their successful re-entry more difficult."
Elijah instead called for the closing of more maximum security prisons, saying that better classification and the review of the classification of prisoners could lead to lower risk levels giving some a better chance for re-entry into society upon release.
Daniel O'Donnell, D-Morningside Heights, the Assembly Committee on Corrections chair, wants to examine the budget to see how the Department of Corrections reached the decision over which prisons to close.
"I'm very happy they are complying with the law in giving them one year notice," said O'Donnell. "But the question of how and the impact will have to be looked at within the budget. What I'm wondering is why one prison over another. I'm hoping through the budget to learn more about it."
Unlike in 2011, the governor has announced no plan for economic development for the communities that host the prisons.
"It's more tough news for a region already reeling from devastating job losses and coming on the heels of the Cuomo administration's recent announcement that it plans to shut down inpatient services at the Elmira Psychiatric Center," said O'Mara. "Once again I'll say that the goals of downsizing and cost-effectiveness in government are moves in the right direction. But the Cuomo administration's approach appears to be taking a particular toll on our region and other upstate communities and, in my view, it's not making fiscal sense."