USA: Why more prison closures may be coming to New York

Citing a decline in crime, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday proposed closing up to three state prisons by Sept. 1.

Cuomo has been aggressive in closing state prisons since taking office in 2011, shuttering 24 facilities and juvenile detention centers since then.

Now he wants to close as many as three more as part of the state budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1.

“In my first State of the State address eight years ago, I said prisons are not a jobs program,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“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.”

Which ones?

Cuomo didn’t say which of the existing 54 correctional facilities he would look to close, saying it would be up to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to determine it.

Cuomo said his latest plan does not anticipate layoffs.

Workers would be able to transfer to other facilities, he said. In fact, 96 percent of staff from previous closures were able to either find other jobs or retire.

Senate Republicans in particular have fought prison closures because many of the facilities are in their upstate districts.

But Republicans no longer control the Senate. Now it would be up to Democrats who control the state Legislature to decide whether to go ahead with Cuomo’s plan.

There was no immediate comment from the state’s Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents prison workers.

Fewer inmates

The prison population has dropped 17 percent since Cuomo took office, down by about 10,000 inmates, his office said. The system now has about 47,000 prisoners.

Ironically, Cuomo has closed many of the prisons that were opened under the administration of his late father Gov. Mario Cuomo, who served amid a surge in crime in the 1980s and early 1990s.

The prison population peaked 72,649 about 20 years ago, his office said. So it’s down about 35 percent since then.

New York has been able to eliminate 5,500 beds, saving the state about $162 million a year, Cuomo’s office said.

The latest proposal, which was included in Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendments Friday, would eliminate about 1,200 beds and save the state about $35 million a year. It has been easier to close prisons because crime in New York has fallen six years in a row and down 25 percent over the past decade.

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