Budget allows NY governor to expedite more prison closures

Gov. Andrew Cuomo must give legislative leaders at least 90 days' notice of the closures instead of the usual one-year notification requirement


By Robert Harding
The Citizen

AUBURN, N.Y. — The final 2021-22 state budget gives Gov. Andrew Cuomo the authority to fast-track more New York prison closures.

The public protection and general government budget bill contains language that allows Cuomo to close more correctional facilities in the 2021-22 fiscal year. He must give legislative leaders at least 90 days' notice of the closures instead of the usual one-year notification requirement.

Cuomo has used a similar provision in past budgets to close state prisons. In the 2020-21 fiscal year, which ended March 31, he could order the closure of correctional facilities as long as he notified Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins at least 90 days before the prisons ceased operations.

COVID-19 delayed the closures, but Cuomo announced in December that three state prisons would close — Gowanda and Watertown correctional facilities, and the annex at Clinton Correctional Facility. The prisons closed at the end of March.

Two years ago, Cuomo expedited the closure of two prisons — Lincoln and Livingston correctional facilities.

Since Cuomo became governor in 2011, New York has closed nearly 20 prisons. The main reason for the closures is the declining incarcerated population. Over a 22-year period, the number of incarcerated individuals has decreased from 72,649 to 31,412, a 56.8% drop.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision has eliminated more than 9,400 prison beds. The closures have saved the state approximately $282 million annually, according to DOCCS.

When Cuomo proposed additional closures this year, he asked the state Legislature to grant him the authority over two fiscal years — 2021-22 and 2022-23. Acting DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci told state legislators in February that "we anticipate additional facility closures in the upcoming two fiscal years." The number of facility closures wasn't disclosed, but Annucci said they would eliminate approximately 1,800 beds.

The state Legislature differed on whether to allow Cuomo to expedite more prison closures. The state Senate's one-house budget would've required Cuomo to notify legislative leaders at least 180 days before closing New York prisons. However, the state Assembly's one-house budget didn't include any language that would speed up the prison closure process.

While Cuomo will be able to expedite prison closures, the public protection budget bill requires him to include certain details in his notice to legislative leaders. The notification should include the list of correctional facilities Cuomo will close, the number of incarcerated individuals in the affected prisons and how many employees work at the facilities.

Within 60 days of the prison closures, the DOCCS commissioner must provide information to legislative leaders about staff relocation efforts.

The public protection and general government measure is one of the few budget bills that have been printed. Cuomo said Monday that there is a "conceptual agreement" on the 2021-22 state budget, but there are still outstanding issues in negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders.

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

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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