N.Y. governor: 'We don't need as many prisons'

Though she is eyeing a "scaling-down initiative," Gov. Kathy Hochul says she is mindful of how disruptive closures can be for employees

By Robert Harding
The Citizen
ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul is exploring alternative uses for some state prisons after finding that many of the facilities are "half full."

Hochul told reporters on Wednesday that she analyzed the capacity and occupancy of New York's 50 correctional facilities during her first week in office — she was sworn in as governor in August.

Based on the incarcerated population at some correctional facilities, she is eyeing a "scaling-down initiative." However, she acknowledged that closing prisons can disrupt the lives of employees.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters after a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters after a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony at the state Capitol, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

"My question is always about the workers who have made this their career," Hochul said. "I don't live far from some of these facilities in upstate New York, my home, and I know it has an impact on the local economy."

Hochul's predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, made closing prisons a high priority. In December 2020, he announced that two medium-security prisons, Gowanda and Watertown, and the maximum-security annex at Clinton Correctional Facility would close. Those facilities closed in March.

Before his resignation, Cuomo sought to close more prisons. In his budget proposal, he asked the state Legislature to allow for the expedited closure of correctional facilities over the next two fiscal years.

The final 2021-22 budget authorizes the governor to give 90 days' notice of any prison closures. Hochul has not indicated whether she will use that power to expedite the closure of correctional facilities.

The justification for closing more prisons is the decreasing incarcerated population. According to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, there were 31,853 incarcerated individuals in 50 prisons, down from 72,649 in 1999.

As Hochul seeks to close state prisons, she wants to determine whether there are alternative uses for the facilities. That has been a challenge for other facilities that have been shuttered. As an example, Butler Correctional Facility, a state prison that closed in 2014, has been unused and no other uses have been identified. The state initially planned to sell the site, but canceled an auction in 2019.

One idea floated by Hochul is using the facilities as residential centers or for substance abuse treatment.

"These are buildings that I'm looking at the cost and also the opportunity associated with converting them to a different purpose," she said. "We don't need as many prisons. The number of people incarcerated has gone down dramatically in our state. That's something that is absolutely on the table and we are looking at right now."

(c)2021 The Citizen, Auburn, N.Y.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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