N.Y. moves to close 6 prisons, citing 31-year low in inmate population

Nearly all of the prisons have more staffers than inmates and are operating well under capacity

By Denis Slattery and Graham Rayman
New York Daily News
ALBANY, N.Y. — Six prisons across the state will close next year, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday, citing a declining prison population and savings to taxpayers.

The closures slated for March 10 include Downstate Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, the closest state facility to the city in the current list. Downstate — long the first stop for city prisoners after being sentenced — is currently at just over half capacity. State data show there are 688 inmates at Downstate and 644 staff members.

The statewide prison population as of Monday was 31,469, a drop of more than 41,304, or 56.7%, since a high of 72,773 in 1999. The current total is also the lowest number of people in the state’s prison since 1984.

Inmates line up for lunch at the Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in Mineville, N.Y. The facility is one of six slated for closure in March 2022.
Inmates line up for lunch at the Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in Mineville, N.Y. The facility is one of six slated for closure in March 2022. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Prison officials said they reviewed all 50 prisons before selecting the six to be closed. Nearly all of them have more staffers than prisoners and are operating well under capacity. The closures will save the state an estimated $142 million annually, prison officials said.

An additional 18 state prison facilities have closed since 2011, officials said.

The closures were approved as part of the state budget in April. Hochul and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision then decided which facilities to shut down.

Advocates have been pressing for prison closures for years, while the state correction unions and local politicians have resisted because the institutions bring jobs and boost local economies.

The move was lauded by activist Jose Saldana, who said it didn’t go far enough. “New York’s prisons still hold roughly two times more incarcerated people today than in the 1970s, at the dawn of our nation’s mass incarceration era,” said Saldana, director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign.

“Therefore, Gov. Hochul and the Legislature must use their powers to safely release people from prison. The governor must use her clemency powers frequently, inclusively and transparently.”

Saldana called for passage of bills that release older people and reduce and accelerate sentences for parole violations, which send people back to prison.

“Without these measures, and despite these closures, thousands will continue to needlessly languish behind bars,” he said. “Tens of thousands of Black and Latinx families are counting on New York’s leaders to bring their loved ones home.”

The medium-security Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County near Syracuse will also close. The lockup has a staff of 329 overseeing 168 incarcerated people — well under the capacity of 664.

The other facilities scheduled to close include Ogdensburg on the Canadian border, Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in the Adirondacks, the maximum-security Southport Correctional Facility in central New York, which has a staff of 405 watching 268 prisoners, and Rochester Correctional Facility, which houses just 46 people.

“Among these facilities, Southport, a prison dedicated exclusively to solitary confinement for decades, tortured countless souls and ripped apart many families,” Saldana said.

Michael Powers, head of the union that represents state correction officers, slammed the decision, blaming “the state’s progressive policies.” “At some point, the state needs to realize that these choices are more than just buildings and tax-saving measures, these are life-altering decisions that upend lives and destroy communities,” said Powers, the president of the NYS Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association.

Prison officials said staff at the shuttered facilities will either be transferred to other prisons or considered for employment at other state agencies. No layoffs are anticipated. How the facilities will be used in the future remains unclear.

Inmates housed in the facilities will be moved to other prisons.

©2021 New York Daily News.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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