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One week ago Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced plans to close up to three correctional facilities following record reductions in the State's incarcerated population and reported crime. Specifically, under legislation introduced as a budget amendment, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision will select the prisons, transition staff and incarcerated individuals, and cease facility operations by no later than September 1, 2019. But Upstate legislators are pushing back against the closings, saying that the loss of jobs would be devastating the region because Five Points Correctional Facility, Auburn Correctional Facility, and Willard Drug Treatment Campus are three of the largest employers in the Finger Lakes region.

"Our region is home to thousands of correction officers and prison support staff," said NYS Senator Pam Helming (who represents lansing). "They work hard each and every day to keep these facilities secure. It is because of their sacrifice and expertise that the correctional facilities in our region are among the most efficient in the state. The officers and staff who work in these facilities are our friends and neighbors. They are coaches, community volunteers, and property taxpayers. They give back to our area and make our region stronger. That is why I am working with NYSCOPBA, Council 82, and local leaders to send a loud and clear message to Albany: We cannot balance the state budget on the backs of the corrections staff and the communities where they live, work, and raise their families. The Governor's proposed prison closures coupled with the downstate-led Senate's push to eliminate the use of Special Housing Units (SHUs) for disciplinary purposes and attempts to increase the wages of the incarcerated is all about taking care of the criminals. There are already serious safety concerns in New York's prisons, including double bunking, that could be exacerbated with prison closures. It is long past time to refocus our efforts on helping crime victims and standing with those who keep our communities safe."

The Governor's office claims "this decisive action is proof positive that the Governor's smart and fair criminal justice reforms are working to reduce reliance on mass incarceration and improve the rehabilitation of the individuals who are involved in the justice system."

"In my first State of the State address eight years ago, I said prisons are not a jobs program. Since then, I am proud to have closed more prisons than any governor in history and at the same time proved that New York can remain the safest large state in the nation. But we must do more," Cuomo said. "These new closures are another step toward reversing the era of mass incarceration and recognizing that there are more effective alternatives to lengthy imprisonment."

The governor's Office says that since Cuomo took office in 2011, the prison population has declined by nearly 10,000 - a 16.7% reduction - from 56,419 to 46,973 people, as of today. In fact, the current population is at its lowest level in thirty years and leads the nation with the lowest imprisonment rate of any large state. From its peak of 72,649 twenty years ago, the population has decreased by more than 25,000 people - a 35.3% reduction. As the number of people involved in the criminal justice system plummeted during his administration, Cuomo has taken aggressive action to right-size the correctional and juvenile justice system, closing 24 prisons and juvenile detention centers, more than any governor in state history. These prison closures eliminated over 5,500 beds resulting in an annual savings of approximately $162 million. This restructuring was recommended by the Governor's Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission.

Cuomo says New York's reduction in prison population has coincided with significant decreases in reported crime, including both violent and property offenses. In 2017, reported crime reached an all-time low since statewide reporting began in 1975. Preliminary data for 2018 shows that crime continued to decline for the sixth consecutive year and will mark yet another historic low. Over the past decade, the state's crime rate has declined by nearly 25% due to the precipitous decline in crime and increase in number of residents. This has cemented New York's position as the safest large state in the nation.

Now, the shrinking population of individuals in state custody and plunging crime rate have resulted in the need for fewer correctional facilities. At the Governor's direction, DOCCS will carefully review the operations at its 54 correctional facilities and select up to three for closure based on a variety of factors, including but not limited to physical infrastructure, program offerings, facility security level, specialized medical and mental care, and potential reuse. The closure plan will not anticipate staff layoffs and will provide impacted DOCCS employees with opportunities to transition to other facilities or positions. In prior facility closures, more than 96% of staff have chosen to continue state service, retire, or pursue other opportunities. While it is ultimately dependent on the exact facilities, the closures are estimated to eliminate at least 1,200 beds and result in an annual savings of, at least, $35 million. The budget amendment provides the Department with the authority to close the prisons on an expedited schedule.  But local officials say moving jobs out of their communities will hurt local economies.

"For over 200 years, Auburn Correctional Facility has been a major employer in our city, and it is difficult to imagine what Auburn would be like without it," said Auburn City Mayor Michael Quill. "We support the men and women in corrections who continuously keep our community safe. We encourage the Governor to recognize the important role and contribution our correctional facility has always made and continues to make to our community and our economy."

The Governor is also urging the State legislature to address injustice by passing reforms to end cash bail, ensure the right to a speedy trial, and modernize the discovery process. The Governor is also calling for drastic reforms to improve the re-entry and reintegration process for individuals returning from incarceration. But the President of the New York State Law Enforcement Officers Union, Council 82, Thomas Ingles says that closing prisons leads to crowding in the remaining facilities that leads to violence.

"Closing three prisons without first removing the double bunks from New York's prisons is a recipe for disaster," Ingles said. "With the last round of prison closures after the unprecedented release of lower level criminals, the state's prison system was left with a higher concentration of violent inmates packed into each facility. There was no surprise when we started to see the level of violence dramatically increase to the historical levels we see today. Closing three additional prisons and packing these violent criminals into what's left only puts our prison staff and inmate population at greater risk."

Helming says that prison violence is a more pressing problem that should be addressed before closing facilities.

"I welcome my downstate colleagues to visit the two maximum security prisons in my district to see firsthand the hard work that corrections staff do to keep our prisons safe. We should be addressing the problem of prison violence first before consolidating more inmates into fewer facilities. That is why I have reached out directly to Commissioner Annucci to share the very real impact local prison closures could have on our community. I am urging local governments, business organizations, and civic groups to adopt resolutions and share their opposition to this plan with the Governor. As State Senator, I will continue to fight for the future of our correctional facilities and the brave men and women who keep them safe," Helming said.

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