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CORRECTIONS

New York to close six prisons, including Seneca County drug treatment facility

NY-Fewer Prisoners

Inmates walk in a cell block at Coxsackie Correctional Facility in Coxsackie.

New York state will close six of its correctional facilities early next year, citing a continued drop in the incarcerated population.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced closure plans on Monday morning. Neither of the state prisons operating in Cayuga County are on the closure list, but a drug treatment facility in Seneca County is among the six that will officially close on March 10.

Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, Willard Drug Treatment Campus, Southport Correctional Facility, Downstate Correctional Facility and Rochester Correctional Facility were selected for closure after what DOCCS described as a comprehensive analysis of all 50 facilities it operates.

The agency said layoffs are not expected, as facilities were closed in areas that are near others that will be have opportunities for existing staff. The downsizing of facilities is expected to save $142 million.

The closure announcement comes almost two weeks after Gov. Kathy Hochul hinted in public comments that she would be supportive of shutting down some prisons, but she also noted that impact on communities where prisons are often major employers must be weighed. This year's state budget included language that authorized closures.

DOCCS said the total incarcerated population within its facilities is down to 31,469, a decrease of 12,700 since the beginning of 2020. It's the lowest total population since 1984, and it's down more than 56% since the peak population of 72,773 in 1999.

"DOCCS carefully reviewed the operations at its 50 correctional facilities for possible closure," the agency said. "This review was based on a variety of factors, including physical infrastructure, program offerings, facility security level, specialized medical and mental health services, proximity of other facilities in the area to minimize the impact to staff, potential re-use options and areas of the state where prior closures have occurred in order to minimize the impact to communities."

DOCCS said it will work bargaining units to facilitate employee transitions to other job opportunities, and will support the state Office of General Services and Empire State Development with efforts to re-use to the closed facilities.

Monday's announcement is the latest round in a series of prison closures that began under Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Both Cayuga Correctional Facility, a medium security prison, and the maximum security Auburn Correctional Facility, have avoided the cuts.

Willard, in Seneca County, is a drug treatment facility that has often housed convicted felons from the Cayuga County area with addiction issues. DOCCS said Willard, with a staff of 329 people, is currently housing 168 people with a capacity for 664. The drug treatment functions at Willard will shift to Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Chautauqua County.

The union representing corrections officers blasted the decision by DOCCS.

“If people have been paying attention to the past decade of poor decisions made by our elected leaders in Albany, today’s news shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone," said New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Michael Powers in a press release. "The State’s progressive polices are costly and need to be funded somehow. Sadly it’s at the expense of the hard working men and women of NYSCOPBA. The numbers tell the real story; despite closing over two dozen facilities the past 10 years, violent attacks on our members have doubled and yet nothing is being done to address it. Where is the reinvestment in the facilities to make these prisons safer working environments? My heart goes out to all of the individuals whose lives have been severely impacted by this announcement and know that our organization will hold the department accountable every step of the way. At some point, the State needs to realize that these choices are more than just buildings and tax-saving measures, these are life-altering decisions that upend lives and destroy communities.”

Advocates for incarcerated people said they were pleased with the news.

“We are pleased that these six facilities will soon close. Among these facilities, Southport, a prison dedicated exclusively to solitary confinement for decades, tortured countless souls and ripped apart many families," Jose Saldana, director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign. "However, New York’s prisons still hold roughly two times more incarcerated people today than in the 1970s, at the dawn of our nation’s mass incarceration era. Therefore, Governor Hochul and the legislature must use their powers to safely release people from prison. The Governor must use her clemency powers frequently, inclusively, and transparently. She can and should end mass incarceration with the stroke of a pen. The legislature must pass the Elder Parole and Fair & Timely Parole bills. Without these measures, and despite these closures, thousands will continue to needlessly languish behind bars. Tens of thousands of Black and Latinx families are counting on New York’s leaders to bring their loved ones home.”

Jeremy Boyer can be reached at (315) 282-2231 or jeremy.boyer@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenBoyer

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