ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to close three prisons statewide won’t affect law enforcement’s ability to do its job in the Twin Counties, officials said, but could have an economic impact on the area should a local facility be among those closed.
The governor’s plan, announced Friday, Feb. 15, would close three correctional facilities in New York state because of a decline in the incarceration population and reported crime, according to a statement released by the governor’s office. The plan was introduced as a budget amendment.
“In my first State of the State address eight years ago, I said prisons are not a jobs program. 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,” Cuomo said.
There are three state-run prisons in the Twin Counties — the Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County, and the Coxsackie and Greene correctional facilities in Greene County, both located in the town of Coxsackie.
While the governor’s plan is to close up to three of the state’s 54 facilities, it is not yet known which will be shuttered.
That decision will be made by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, which will also oversee the closings and transition of staff and inmates to other facilities. Operations at the selected prisons are expected to cease no later than Sept. 1, 2019, according to the governor’s office.
“These new closures are another step toward reversing the era of mass incarceration and recognizing that there are more effective alternatives to lengthy imprisonment,” Cuomo said.
Should one of the facilities in Coxsackie be closed down, Greene County Sheriff Greg Seeley said it would not have an adverse impact on his department.
“It won’t affect our ability to do our job, but it would affect the county,” Seeley said Monday. “A lot of the corrections officers live in Greene County. They shop in Greene County and buy gas in Greene County. It would definitely have an impact on the county, and I wouldn’t want to see anyone lose their job.”
The economic impact could be harsh, Seeley said.
“As a taxpayer and the sheriff, I wouldn’t want to see one of the prisons close,” he said. “It would also mean corrections officers moving out of Greene to other counties.”
The Hudson Correctional Facility, formerly an adult penitentiary, transitioned to housing a youth population several years ago. Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett said if it were to close, his department would not be affected, but at the same time he would not want to see it closed down.
“It wouldn’t impact us. It is a state facility — everyone there has been sentenced to state prison, so we don’t ship anyone there,” Bartlett said.
But with the shift to housing a younger prison population, Barlett said it would be a shame if the Hudson facility were to be one of those closed by the state.
“If it was Hudson — which was just switched to a youth facility a little while ago — that would be a waste of money,” Bartlett said.
He was also concerned about the economic impact.
“A lot of people work there and a lot of the correctional officers live in our community, so that would be kind of sad if it were to close,” Bartlett said.
Coxsackie Town Supervisor Rick Hanse said should one of the facilities in his town be closed down, it would be a loss of more than tax dollars. Both of Greene County’s two prisons are in Coxsackie.
”Each of the two prisons are the two largest employers in the town of Coxsackie,” Hanse said. “There are a whole slew of civilian jobs there – there are teachers, medical workers, maintenance workers, a host of civilian people who support the work of the prison. Many of these people live in Coxsackie, though certainly not all of them, and those who don’t, contribute to our economy by patronizing our businesses. If they transfer staff, we could experience a real loss of human capital.”
The loss, he added, would go beyond money.
“It’s not just that we would lose people, but the things these people bring to our community,” Hanse said. “We would not only lose taxpayers, we would lose their contributions.”
The planned closure of three unidentified correctional facilities was met with skepticism by the union representing state corrections officers.
The New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, Inc., or NYSCOPBA, argues the closures would cause overcrowding, increase the possibility of danger at the remaining facilities and hurt the towns where the shuttered prisons are located.
“Once again, New York is putting its residents at risk by proposing to close more prisons,” union President Michael Powers said in a statement. “This will unquestionably make our prisons more dangerous. Violence at New York’s correctional facilities is already at a historic high.”
Powers added that overcrowding would be the result.
“The administration will inevitably attribute closures to the number of open beds in the corrections system, but that’s a misleading argument to say the least,” he said. “Here is the real story: The state continues the dangerous, archaic and borderline cruel practice of double bunking. If the state simply agreed to stop cramming incarcerated individuals together into double bunks like sardines, the number of open beds in the system would diminish substantially.”
Powers said the state needs to end double bunking immediately.
“It is very important to note that closures do not in any way equate to a decrease in the number of incarcerated people,” he said. “Closures mean consolidating the same number of incarcerated people into a smaller area, making remaining prisons overpopulated and increasing the risk of more violent behavior.
“The numbers do not lie,” Powers said. “The prison system has been in existence for more than 200 years, and in each of the last three years, prisons have set records for the number of violent incidents.”
The prison population has declined by nearly 10,000 since Cuomo took office in 2011, according to the governor’s office, a reduction of 16.7 percent. In 2011, 56,419 people were incarcerated in state-run correctional facilities in New York, compared to 46,973 in 2019 — the lowest number in 30 years.
Over the last eight years, since Cuomo took office, 24 prisons and juvenile detention centers have been closed, leading to an annual savings of approximately $162 million, according to the governor’s office.
There are 54 correctional facilities statewide, all of which will be reviewed by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. Up to three will be selected for closure based on a number of factors, including physical infrastructure, program offerings, facility security level, specialized medical and mental care and potential reuse.
No staff layoffs are anticipated and employees at closed sites will be given the opportunity to transition to other facilities or positions, according to the governor’s office.
The closures are part of the governor’s 2019 Justice Agenda, a series of “progressive proposals” the governor announced earlier this year.
Johnson News Service contributed to this report.