The New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision today announced plans to continue to reform the state’s prison system that will save taxpayers over $30 million annually following a substantial reduction in the state crime rate and drug offenses which has caused a shrinking inmate population and less of need to keep more prisons open.
Under the reforms, four State correctional facilities will be closed in one year on July 26, 2014, which will allow for a gradual transition, providing affected employees with more options for positions within the Department and other agencies.
There has been an overall decline in the inmate population largely due to a 15% decrease in the state crime rate over the past 10 years, a 13% reduction in the number of violent crimes, such as homicide and assault and a dramatic reduction in the number of drug offenders. Since 1999, the prison population in New York has declined by almost 24%, from a high of 71,600 to approximately 54,600 incarcerated today. At the end of 1996, there were 24,085 drug offenders in custody. By comparison, on December 31, 2012, that number reached a new low of 7,053, which represents a reduction of 71%. This is the lowest number of drug offenders since 1986, a majority of whom were serving their sentences in medium security facilities and Shock Incarceration Programs.
“In response to a reduced crime rate that has shrunk our inmate population, we are continuing to right size the state’s costly prison system and saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually. This reform plan was made with careful consideration and detailed analysis to ensure we are not impacting the safety of each facility’s employees and the public,” Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said. “Over the next twelve months, we will have the beds available in the system to transfer those inmates from the four facilities and not impact the safety of staff, the inmate population, or the public. No inmates will be released early due to the closing of a facility, and we will not have to seek any temporary, double bunking variances from the State Commission of Correction. In fact, we have even reduced the number of double cells in our maximum security facilities by 337 this year.”
The State’s closure plan includes one minimum security facility: Monterey Shock (Schuyler County), and three medium security facilities: Butler (Wayne County), Chateaugay (Franklin County) and Mt. McGregor (Saratoga County). The dramatic reduction in drug offenders has resulted in shrinking populations at these prisons. A number of years ago a large portion of the Shock Incarceration population was comprised of drug offenders. Monterey was the Department’s first Shock facility. At one time both Chateaugay and Butler were used as alcohol and substance abuse treatment facilities to provide a special program for addicted offenders. Mt. McGregor was also once used to house a significant number of drug offenders. Now however, with the changing demographics of the inmate population and the steep decline in imprisoned drug offenders, these facilities no longer fulfill the same Department need they once did.
The closure plan proposes preventing layoffs by transitioning employees to other facilities. Since most of the prisons slated for closure have other correctional facilities relatively nearby, employees will be transferred to those facilities. In some cases, employees will actually be able to move closer to home.
For those with geographic restrictions, the state will work with the Department of Civil Service to facilitate employment opportunities in other agencies.
The one-year advance notification will allow for a gradual transition and more options for affected employees as other funded positions within the Department become vacant during the next twelve months. In addition, this efficiency plan calls for a limited number of medium security dormitories, previously closed, to reopen. This will provide further options for employees currently working at the facilities designated for closure. As of July 22, 2013, there were 549 staffed vacancies within the Department’s network of medium security correctional facilities.
When contacted late on Friday, with the news on the Butler facility closing, Town of Butler Supervisor Dave Spickerman said he only heard second hand about the closing; he was not notified by the State.
I don’t know yet how it will affect us, or the employees at the facility. It was just a few years ago that they reduced the size of the prison, but they did not indicate that they would close it.” He felt it would definitely means job losses in Wayne County if employees were reassigned at other facilities.
“I am also really angered by the court systems. They spent a lot of money processing drug offenders and then they let them go back into society.,” Spickerman stated.
Wayne County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Hoffman stated, “I am always glad to see the State trying to save taxpayers dollars, but taking away jobs in a small rural county is not good news.” . Hoffman indicated that he believes the county and the Wayne County Water and Sewer authority worked very hard to increase the capacity of the 5 Corners Sanitary Sewer facility to accommodate the Butler Correctional facility. He also recalled that several years ago, the State downsized the facility and felt it would not need to close. “If it can’t be avoided (the closing), then I feel for the families who will have to be uprooted, I wish them the best,” added Hoffman.