During his period as governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo closed 18 prisons. 2021 brought about more closures as the state legislature approved it in the 2021 state budget. New York’s newest governor, Kathy Hochul, a Democrat from Buffalo, plans to carry on his ideas and shut down six more starting at the beginning of 2022.
This decision to close prisons in March of 2022 has been met by much backlash by the Republicans of the state of New York who discuss issues of public safety. However, according to the New York Times, “The number of people incarcerated in New York is less than half of what it was in the peak of 1999, and the facilities being closed are well below capacity.” Moreover, New York’s prison population is now as low as it was in 1984, and the closures could bring benefits to New York’s economy.
Kathy Hochul deliberated potential plans to reuse the state prisons as substance rehabilitation centers: “I want to get creative with this. I don’t know if something can be used as a substance abuse treatment center. We don’t need as many prisons.” New York undoubtedly plans to reuse the mostly upstate prison centers, however, a solid proposition has not yet been confirmed. Furthermore, the closure is forecasting that taxpayers will save over 142 million dollars, and will not result in any job loss for prison staff.
Other recent closures in North County, N.Y., including two in 2021, resulted in the loss of 550 jobs. Recent years have also brought about a retirement boom for prison facility workers in North County. However, those who retire cannot be replaced at the same rate. A local Republican representative, Elise Stefanik, urges Governor Hochul to reconsider her plans. Representative Stefanik views they will impact North County gravely: “Targeting multiple North County prisons is an attack on the hard-working residents of the North County.”
According to the New York Times, as of current, the facilities that will close are exceptionally under their capacity of 3,253, housing only 1,420 inmates total. The largest facility, Downstate Correctional Facility, which resides in Dutchess County, N.Y., has a capacity of 1,221 but is only operating with about 56 percent of residents. A possible reason Governor Kathy Hochul is pushing for the closure of these facilities could be related to new laws regarding solitary confinement and parole violations passed by Democrats recently. Criminal justice advocates in this state and nationwide are in favor of the closure and more fair treatment of inmates in the United States.
When considering closure, The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supercision takes into account “physical infrastructure, program offerings, facility security level, specialized medical and mental health services, other facilities in the area to minimize the impact to staff, potential reuse options and areas of the State where prior closures have occurred in order to minimize the impact to communities.” Democrats and Republicans of New York are deliberating and largely disagree on the facility debate in the state.