Jobs or Jails? Governor Plans to Shutter 7 State Prisons

Jobs or Jails? Governor Plans to Shutter 7 State Prisons

July 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm

By many counts, the New York state prison system has some 8,000 empty beds. On June 30, the Cuomo administration announced a move that would cut that number almost in half.

The plan would close seven prisons across the state — doing away with 3,800 of those empty beds.

Strikingly, 50 percent of the beds being eliminated are in New York City, while the city houses only 25 percent of the state’s prison population. In particular the plan would close the one medium security prison in the five boroughs — Arthur Kill on Staten Island –- while leaving open similar facilities in rural upstate communities. More than 60 percent of the state’s prisoners are from New York City.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo avoided shuttering the prisons with the most vacancies, many of which are women’s prisons. One such facility, Albion Correctional, has 66 percent of its beds empty. It will remain open.

This spring’s state budget deal gave Cuomo the power to shutter prisons of his choosing after consulting with legislators. Criminal justice advocates have been clamoring for Cuomo to downsize the prison system, which his father expanded, partly to save money.

Advocates also believed that shutting prisons in rural northern communities would result in fewer New York City residents being incarcerated far from their homes. Letting people serve closer to their homes would enable them to maintain contact with family members — something advocates say reduces recidivism and bolsters reentry to civil society.

Cuomo tackled the issue head on in his state of the state address — seemingly addressing legislators from northern New York who cling to the jobs prisons provide in to their communities. “An incarceration program is not an employment program,” Cuomo said. “If people need jobs, let’s get people jobs. Don’t put other people in prison to give some people jobs. Don’t put other people in juvenile justice facilities to give some people jobs. That’s not what this state is all about. And that has to end this session.”

Meanwhile, unions as well as communities across the state, particularly those in the economically hard-pressed upstate areas that rely on prisons for jobs, lobbied behind the scenes and protested loudly as the Cuomo administration mulled over which prisons would get the axe.

The closing plan announced at the end of June will probably save the state money. But it almost certainly will not end up with New York City residents serving sentences near their homes. In fact, it could have the opposite effect.

Read the full post at Gotham Gazette.