ALBANY (TNS) — Six prisons across the state will close next year, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday, citing a declining prison population and savings to taxpayers.
The closures slated for March 10 include Downstate Correctional Facility in Dutchess County. Downstate — long the first stop for New York City prisoners after being sentenced — is currently at just over half-capacity. State data shows there are 688 inmates at Downstate and 644 staff.
The statewide prison population as of Monday was 31,469, a drop of more than 41,304 or 56.7% since a high of 72,773 in 1999. The current total is also the lowest number of people in prison since 1984, prison officials said.
Prison officials said they reviewed all 50 prisons before selecting the six to be closed. Nearly all of them have more staff than prisoners and are operating at well under capacity. The closures will save the state an estimated $142 million.
An additional 18 state prison facilities have closed since 2011, officials said, including the Gowanda Correctional Facility.
The closures were approved as part of the state budget in April. But the decision on which facilities to shut down was made by Hochul and the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Advocates have been pressing for prison closures for years, while the state correction unions and local pols have resisted because the institutions bring jobs and boost local economies.
The move was lauded by activist Jose Saldana, who said it didn’t go far enough. “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,” said Saldana, director of the Release Aging People in Prison Campaign.
“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.”
He called for passage of bills that release older people and reduce and accelerate sentences for parole violations, which send people back to prison.
“Without these measures, and despite these closures, thousands will continue to needlessly languish behind bars,” he said. “Tens of thousands of Black and Latinx families are counting on New York’s leaders to bring their loved ones home.”
The medium security Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County near Syracuse will also close. The lockup has a staff of 329 overseeing 168 incarcerated people — well under the capacity of 664.
The other facilities scheduled to close include Ogdensburg on the Canadian border, Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in the Catskills, the maximum security Southport Correctional Facility in central New York, which has a staff of 405 watching 268 prisoners, and Rochester Correctional Facility, which houses just 46 people.
“Among these facilities, Southport, a prison dedicated exclusively to solitary confinement for decades, tortured countless souls and ripped apart many families,” Saldana said.
Michael Powers, head of the union that represents state correction officers, slammed the decision, blaming “the state’s progressive policies.”
“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,” said Powers, the president of the NYS Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association.
Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, said the continued reductions of prison space and loss of personnel is putting the state's corrections officers who remain on the job at risk.
"Albany politicians refuse to learn from their mistakes or comprehend basic cause-and-effect," he said in a statement. "They continue to prioritize measures like bail reform, ‘Less is More,’ and other pro-criminal policies that have put more criminals back on the street."
Prison officials said staff at the shuttered facilities will either be transferred to other prisons or considered for employment at other state agencies. No layoffs are anticipated. How the facilities will be used in the future remains unclear.
Inmates housed in the facilities will be moved to other prisons.