N.Y. plans to close 5 state correctional facilities
“The state needs to do more to support the correctional officers and civilians that walk into these facilities every day to help keep us all safe, not overcrowd them or shut them down,” State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones said
By Joe LoTemplio
The Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y.
NEW YORK — The notion of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposal to close five state correctional facilities as part of the 2024-25 state budget is troubling to supporters of the prisons.
“All conversations about public safety need to include our correctional facilities,” State Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D- Chateaugay Lake ), a former correction officer, said.
“I am highly disappointed by the governor’s decision to close more correctional facilities across the state because it will do nothing to mitigate the rise in crime or increase safety in prisons. I also am concerned about how these closures will impact communities like the North Country who support these correctional facilities and depend on them.”
Jones said that instead of ‘right-sizing,’ the state should be discussing how we keep the system safe for the hardworking men and women inside those prison walls.
“The state needs to do more to support the correctional officers and civilians that walk into these facilities every day to help keep us all safe, not overcrowd them or shut them down,” he said.
“We owe this to their friends and loved ones who worry about their safety every day.”
The correction officers union, the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) objected strongly to the governor’s plans.
“NYSCOPBA is deeply concerned that closures will exacerbate prison violence, cause relocated staff to leave service through resignation and retirement, and further the cycle of unsustainable staff attrition and prison violence,” the union said in a statement.
The proposed closure of up to five correctional facilities comes at a time of increased violence that requires higher staffing ratios and lower inmate density, the union said.
“As NYSCOPBA previously warned, the implementation of the unrestricted congregate settings and reduced penalties for rules violations via the Humane Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement Act (HALT) would result in increased violence against incarcerated individuals and staff.
“Latest data provided by DOCCS supports the argument that prisons are more dangerous than ever. Assaults on staff increased 13.4 percent in 2023, following a 25 percent increase the previous year when the HALT Act went into effect. Incarcerated individual assaults increased a staggering 41.5 percent in 2023, followed by a 34 percent increase in 2022. Staff cannot effectively protect themselves or incarcerated individuals at this rate.”
NYSCOPBA President Chris Summers said that as violence increases and staffing levels plummet, mandatory overtime for correction officers and sergeants has spiked to record highs.
“This overtime is well documented and it is unsustainable,” Summers said.
“Continuous mandates are straining members’ physical and mental health, their families, and their quality of life. Members are burning out at alarming rates. How can the State of New York demand that our members continue working in these conditions and have the mental and physical ability to keep incarcerated individuals and staff safe? Members need relief.”
The union said prisons are safest for everyone when they are properly staffed and when incarcerated individuals are not forced to live on top of one another. Closing facilities fails to provide a long-term solution to staffing because staff do not want to uproot their families to move hours away, the union said.
Closing facilities fails to provide a long-term solution to violence because more densely populated prisons make it increasingly difficult to separate the bad actors from preying upon those who are quietly serving their sentences, they argued.
The union says the solution is to keep prisons open, spread out the incarcerated individual population, and to add more staff as quickly as possible.
“To that end, NYSCOPBA calls for support in its efforts for a salary upgrade and additional financial incentives in its collective bargaining agreement,” their statement said.
“Whether people want to admit it or not, there will always be people who commit heinous crimes in New York State . Correctional facilities will always be needed to separate them from the public. We cannot staff those facilities with our depleted membership.”
The union said the solution is simple: Incentivize new and existing staff. Keep prisons open. Reduce the density of the incarcerated population to make it easier to separate bad actors.
“Nobody wants to take this job for the pay, the low quality of life, and the personal risks. Closures won’t fix staffing. Violence won’t get better unless we do something different.”
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