As inmate populations in New York state decline, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed legislation last week that would allow for more state prisons to be closed. In other words, Cuomo would have largely unchallenged power to close prisons. The idea is good. The method is not.
There are numerous dimensions of this plan to be examined first.
One is prison violence. The New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association have legitimate concerns. “At a time when prison violence is at an all-time high, the governor and the Legislature should be working with us and our members to find solutions to make our prisons safer,” NYSCOPBA President Michael B. Powers said. “The last thing we need is incarcerated individuals tightly crammed into prisons, creating nothing more than a powder keg of violence.”
Greene County’s two state prisons, Greene and Coxsackie correctional facilities, both experienced inmate-on-CO assaults in the fall. Over the last 20 years, state prisons have seen a 39% reduction in the inmate population, but violence in state prisons is on the rise, the union said.
“The governor’s call for more prison closures is shortsighted and fails to consider the devastating impacts a closure can have on the men and women working inside the facilities, their families and the surrounding communities,” the union said. “Fifteen prisons have closed under Gov. Cuomo’s administration, forcing consolidation of the state’s most dangerous criminals into close quarters with one another.”
Closing a prison has an economic impact. With two prisons, Coxsackie is virtually a company town. A prison closing there would end the livelihoods of hundreds of people.
State law requires a year’s notice before a prison can be closed. Cuomo wants to accelerate that clock to just 90 days’ notice. The state inmate population is in free fall, so there is no need for an overabundance of prisons, but giving Cuomo sweeping authority to close prisons more quickly is the wrong way to go.