State weighs impacts on communities from looming prison closures

Corrections officers watch an intersection in front of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora. (File photo)

ALBANY — Eyeing the closure of additional state prisons, the state corrections system says it is taking into account impacts to communities that had to cope with the mothballing of other facilities in their respective regions.

Still, employees of the state Department of Corrections and Community Services are nervous that the prisons they staff will be on the hit list, according to leaders of the New York State Corrections Officers Police Benevolent Association.

A list of facilities to be closed is expected to be made public this week by DOCCS, an agency controlled by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor has repeatedly said that prisons should not be viewed as a "jobs program."

"Everyone is waiting with baited breath," said Michael Powers, president of the NYSCOPBA union.

John Roberts, a NYSCOPBA vice president, said he has visited the staff in several North Country prisons in recent weeks.

"I have gotten questions in every jail I have been in," Roberts said. "I just went to Ogdensburg (state prison), and they thought I was coming to tell them they were closing."

DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey said the agency foresees no layoffs resulting from the upcoming closures.

The agency will be working with union representatives "to provide staff opportunities for priority placement via voluntary transfers," he said. Those staffers impacted "will receive priority in terms of employment at other facilities or other state agencies as a result of the formal Civil Service process," Mailey added.

CNHI revealed in December that the Cuomo administration had decided to close Clinton Correctional Facility Annex in Dannemora, as well as the Gowanda and Watertown Correctional facilities. The closures of those prisons were completed March 31.

Powers and Roberts said state officials have given them no advance indication of which prisons are targeted for closing.

The authorization for an unspecified number of prison closures was tucked into the state budget approved in early April.

According to state data, New York's prison population has dropped from a high of 72,649 inmates in 1999 to 31,456 last month, a decline of 56.7%.

Since 2011, DOCCS says it has closed 18 correctional facilities, eliminating more than 10,000 prison beds in the process. This has produced an overall annual savings of about $300 million, according to the agency.

In a statement, Mailey said: "DOCCS is carefully reviewing the operations at its 50 correctional facilities for possible closure."

He added: "This review is based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to 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."

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhinews.com

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