by Kevin Bliss
New York legislators and Governor Andrew M. Cuomo agreed that the state’s 2019-2020 budget will include provisions to shut down two prisons, the Lincoln Correctional Facility in Manhattan and the Livingston Correctional Facility in Sonyea, saving over $35 million. This makes 15 prisons that have closed since 2011 as a result of criminal justice reforms.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) confirmed on September 2, 2019 that the two facilities had officially closed, eliminating 1,200 beds in New York’s prison system and affecting 450 employees. Prisoners housed at Lincoln and Livingston were transferred to other facilities, while employees were offered positions elsewhere in the DOCCS or another state agency. The prisons were selected after considerations of security level, infrastructure, prisoner programs and potential reuse.
Some state lawmakers and representatives from unions representing correctional employees opposed the decision, saying it made the prison system less safe for prisoners and guards alike, and took an economic toll on the affected communities.
State Assemblyman Philip Palmesano said the prison closures created a “powder keg” environment, where acts of violence against guards and other prisoners had already increased over 50 percent in the past five years. “Before we even discuss closing even one correctional facility we should first eliminate the thousands of double bunks and double cells and finally end the dangerous and inhumane practice of double bunking and double celling inmates,” he stated. “These conditions are unacceptable and incite violence in our prisons.”
NYS Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Michael Powers added the closures would do “nothing to reduce the prison population and improve prison conditions that certain legislators and the governor have been advocating for. If anything it does the opposite.”
Further, a group of criminal justice reform organizations opposed closing the Lincoln facility, one of few prisons in New York City, saying it would have a negative impact on visitation by family members who live nearby and would eliminate work release jobs available to prisoners. The organizations that opposed shuttering the facility, in a July 2019 statement, included the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services, the Center for Community Alternatives, the Center for Employment Opportunities, the Correctional Association of NY, EAC Network-NYC TASC & Mental Health Programs, The Fortune Society, the Legal Action Center and the Women’s Prison Association.
Since Governor Cuomo has taken office, the crime rate in New York has fallen to an all-time recent low. Statistics mark 2018 as the sixth consecutive year of decline, making the state one of the safest in the country. Cuomo’s reforms aimed at ending mass incarceration have seen an 18.4 percent reduction in the prison population. As a result, the ability to close 15 prisons within the past eight years has saved the state $162 million annually.
After hearing of opponents’ arguments against closing the Lincoln and Livingston facilities, the governor stated, “I understand the rationale in upstate New York. They don’t like to see a prison close because it means jobs and economic development. But I’m not going to rationalize locking up people as an economic development tool.”
Fifty prisons remain operational in the state, housing around 47,000 prisoners.
Sources: auburnpub.com, syracuse.com, weny.com, democratandchronicle.com, nydailynews.com, osborneny.org
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