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NY correctional facilities in the North Country
NY correctional facilities in the North Country

Cuomo proposes closing as many as ten state prisons

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As part of his plan to balance New York's budget over the long term, Governor Cuomo wants to close as many as ten prisons statewide.

He offered to compensate each community that loses a correctional facility with $10 million in redevelopment funds.

As Brian Mann reports, it's still unclear which prisons will close or how the North Country's prison industry could be affected.

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Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

In his state of the state address last month, Governor Cuomo argued that using prisons as a jobs and economic development program is morally wrong. 

 In his budget speech yesterday, he pivoted and said mothballing prisons is all about saving money.

 "We are not talking about releasing prisoners," Cuomo insisted.  "We are talking about consolidating prisons and unused space."

The Cuomo administration says New York now has more than 3500 prison beds in minimum and medium security prisons that sit empty. 

 According to the budget document released yesterday, shuttering unneeded prisons would save more than $72 million next year and $112 million the year after that.

Governor Cuomo says a new panel that includes members of the legislature will identify which prisons should be closed.

 "We hope to have those decisions done one way or another 30 days after the budget is approved," he said.

 State Senator Betty Little from Queensbury has a dozen prisons in her district.  She says it’s hard not knowing how many facilities and how many communities will be affected.

"Well, I don't know and it is a concern," she said.  "If you're closing a small facility with 200 or 300 beds, you're going to have to have more facility closures."

Donn Rowe, president of NYSCOPBA, the union that represents corrections officers, declined to be interviewed yesterday.

He issued a statement arguing that prisons are still overcrowded and warning that more closures could result in "overcrowding and dangerous conditions."

But Prison reform advocate Bob Gangi praised the plan and said concerns about overcrowding are unfounded.

"This proposal to close as many as 3500 beds is a very positive move in terms of creating a more efficient and human prison system," Gangi said. 

Governors have been trying to close prisons for years, beginning with George Pataki in the 90s. 

 They have been thwarted by Republicans in the state Senate, who’ve generally viewed correctional facilities as an important source of upstate jobs.

One possible game-changer this year is a promise by Governor Cuomo to compensate towns that lose prisons. 

"We understand your situation and your problem.  A community that is going to deal with the loss of a prison will receive a $10 million dollar economic transformation program grant," he said. 

State Senator Patty Ritchie from Heuvelton also has half a dozen state prisons in her district.  She says that redevelopment fund might convince some prison towns that it’s time to consider a different future.

"There might be some areas where the $10 million dollar economic boost would be more appealing than keeping the facility open," she said. 

Governor Cuomo also wants the legislature to eliminate a 12-month waiting period now required before prisons can close.  If he gets his way, corrections facilities could start shutting down as early as this summer.

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