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NY to close 3 prisons due to fewer inmates, drop in crime

Posted 15 February 2019 at 4:20 pm

‘These new closures are another step toward reversing the era of mass incarceration and recognizing that there are more effective alternatives to lengthy imprisonment.’ – Gov. Cuomo

Press Release, Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced plans to close up to three correctional facilities following record reductions in the state’s incarcerated population and reported crime.

Specifically, under legislation introduced as a budget amendment, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision will select the prisons, transition staff and incarcerated individuals, and cease facility operations by no later than Sept. 1, 2019. This decisive action is proof positive that the governor’s smart and fair criminal justice reforms are working to reduce reliance on mass incarceration and improve the rehabilitation of the individuals who are involved in the justice system.

“In my first State of the State address eight years ago, I said prisons are not a jobs program,” Cuomo said. “Since then, I am proud to have closed more prisons than any governor in history and at the same time proved that New York can remain the safest large state in the nation. But we must do more. These new closures are another step toward reversing the era of mass incarceration and recognizing that there are more effective alternatives to lengthy imprisonment.

Since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, the prison population has declined by nearly 10,000 – a 16.7% reduction – from 56,419 to 46,973 people, as of today. In fact, the current population is at its lowest level in 30 years and leads the nation with the lowest imprisonment rate of any large state.

From its peak of 72,649 twenty years ago, the population has decreased by more than 25,000 people – a 35.3% reduction. As the number of people involved in the criminal justice system plummeted during his administration, Governor Cuomo has taken aggressive action to right-size the correctional and juvenile justice system, closing 24 prisons and juvenile detention centers, more than any governor in state history. These prison closures eliminated over 5,500 beds resulting in an annual savings of approximately $162 million. This restructuring was recommended by the Governor’s Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission.

New York’s reduction in prison population has coincided with significant decreases in reported crime, including both violent and property offenses. In 2017, reported crime reached an all-time low since statewide reporting began in 1975. Preliminary data for 2018 shows that crime continued to decline for the sixth consecutive year and will mark yet another historic low. Over the past decade, the state’s crime rate has declined by nearly 25 percent due to the precipitous decline in crime and increase in number of residents. This has cemented New York’s position as the safest large state in the nation.

Now, the shrinking population of individuals in state custody and plunging crime rate have resulted in the need for fewer correctional facilities. At the Governor’s direction, DOCCS will carefully review the operations at its 54 correctional facilities and select up to three for closure based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to physical infrastructure, program offerings, facility security level, specialized medical and mental care, and potential reuse.

The closure plan will not anticipate staff layoffs and will provide impacted DOCCS employees with opportunities to transition to other facilities or positions. In prior facility closures, more than 96 percent of staff have chosen to continue state service, retire, or pursue other opportunities. While it is ultimately dependent on the exact facilities, the closures are estimated to eliminate at least 1,200 beds and result in an annual savings of at least $35 million. The budget amendment provides the Department with the authority to close the prisons on an expedited schedule.

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