A measure allowing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to close prisons with 90 days notice was included in the state's 2020-21 budget, and after nine months of silence the ax fell with an announcement four days before Christmas that facilities in Clinton, Erie and Jefferson counties would be shuttered before the end of March.
Downsizing the state prison system is once again on Cuomo's agenda, and we believe the plan should be put on pause this year, just like much of the public and private workings of the state have been during the coronavirus pandemic.
With a declining inmate population, New York is certainly wise to look for ways to make the prison system more efficient — and some level of facility closures is a necessary part of making that happen — but with a maximum-security prison in Auburn and a medium-security in Moravia, we're especially concerned about jobs in Cayuga County, which is why we have continuously lobbied for the state to take every precaution to minimize the impact of prison closures on communities.
Officials say that the current plan would avoid layoffs by offering prison staff the option of transferring to another facility or even a separate state agency, but health and safety are especially important considerations this year. The state is nowhere near out of the woods when it comes to COVID-19, so packing more inmates and employees into fewer prisons is an invitation for the virus to spread. It is also a terrible time to give workers a mere 90 days to decide whether to take a position in another part of the state and begin looking for new homes and schools.
Lawmakers should demand a return to a minimum one year's notice for workers and communities before any more prisons are closed — and the entire process should be put on hold for at least another year to give the state some breathing room to recover from the immediate health danger posed by COVID-19.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.