Hawley, corrections officers say closing prisons will lead to overcrowding

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 3 April 2019 at 2:42 pm

State Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) and the union representing corrections officers are criticizing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s authorization to close three state prisons, including two within 90 days of the recently passed state budget. These closures will create a cloud of uncertainty for prison employees and threaten public safety across the state, Hawley said.

“I am vehemently opposed to this radical proposal aimed not at protecting the citizens of our state but instead at subsidizing the governor’s runaway tax-and-spend policies in Albany,” Hawley said. “Perhaps the governor plans to overcrowd state prisons or pardon more inmates to decrease the load other prisons will assume as a result of these closures, but this effort is an unnecessary risk to public safety.”

Cuomo said the inmate population has declined significantly. Since he started as governor in 2011, the prison population has dropped by nearly 10,000, a 16.7% reduction from 56,419 to 46,973 people. The current population is at its lowest level in 30 years and leads the nation with the lowest imprisonment rate of any large state, Cuomo said.

From its peak of 72,649 twenty years ago, the population has decreased by more than 25,000 people – a 35.3% reduction, the governor said.

The state operates 54 prisons. The prisons that will close haven’t been identified. Hawley said shuttering three prisons will strain the others.

“This proposal also jeopardizes the employment and safety of thousands of prison personnel, including correctional officers, who put their lives on the line every day for the communities in our state,” he said in a statement. “Overcrowded prisons complicate correctional officers’ jobs and could lead to an increase in violent attacks against these public servants. I will continue my fight against prison closures and ensure the safety of our correctional officers and the public at large is our preeminent concern.”

Cuomo has said, “Prisons are not a jobs program.” He said he wants to end the era of “mass incarceration” and recognize that there are more effective alternatives to lengthy imprisonment.

The union representing 26,000 corrections officers in the state, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, said closing prisons will make other correctional facilities more dangerous for incarcerated individuals and correctional officers, while devastating the communities with the prisons that will close.

“The Governor and Legislature have seemingly done the impossible. They’ve made one of the most dangerous prison systems in the country even more dangerous for both incarcerated individuals and correctional officers,” said Michael B. Powers, president of NYSCOPBA. “The stats don’t lie — prison violence is at an all-time high.

“By consolidating the incarcerated into other facilities, prisons will be overpopulated and violence will only increase. This does nothing to reduce the prison population and improve prison conditions that certain Legislators and the Governor have been advocating for. If anything, it does the opposite. And the archaic and inhumane practice of double bunking has artificially created open beds, and open beds gives the Administration false justification.

“On top of that, closing prisons will undoubtedly devastate two communities and with only 90 days’ notice, despite a law in place mandating one year’s notice. Jobs will be lost, the tax base will suffer and the local economy will be crushed — all because of the Governor and the Legislature.

“And if the Administration says there will be no layoffs, we all know that statement is twisting the truth. These closures are going to force families to uproot and move across the state, and that’s not a choice that all will make. We demand that the Governor reveal the prisons that will be closed immediately.

“Simply put, the Governor and the Legislature have unequivocally turned their backs on the men and women who keep order in our prisons. This is something we won’t soon forget.”

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