downstate correctional

DOWN AND OUT: Downstate Correctional Facility,  a maximum-security prison in Dutchess County, will be among six state correctional facilities that will shutter in early March, state officials announced last week. The population in state facilities is at its lowest since 1984, according to officials, and down 56 percent from its 1996 high. Downstate, which has a capacity of 1,221 inmates, had 688 behind bars as of Nov. 8. 

Citing a continued decline in the state’s prison population, Governor Hochul announced Nov. 8 that the state would be closing six correctional facilities by March.

The closures, which continue a trend that gathered momentum during her predecessor’s last few years in office, are projected to trim $142 million in expenditures but will not result in layoffs of correction or other staff, state officials said. 

Down 29% Since 2020

As of Nov. 8, the incarcerated population in state correctional facilities totaled 31,469, or nearly 29 percent less than the 44,169 at the start of 2020, according to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. It also represents a 56-percent decline in population since a high of 72,773 in 1999. 

By the end of the day March 10, Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, in St. Lawrence County; Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, in Essex County; Willard Drug Treatment Campus, in Seneca County; Southport Correctional Facility, in Chemung County; Downstate Correctional Facility, in Dutchess County; and Rochester Correctional Facility, in Monroe County, will be shuttered.

NYSCOPBA's Mike Powers will go here

 

A spokesman for the Public Employees Federation said the closures would impact just under 250 of its members, most of them medical, rehabilitation and teaching staff. 

“We will be working with each impacted member as they consider their options,” Rob Merrill said in an email. “There is never a good time to find out your job is being transferred to another facility. Many of our members have worked at these locations for decades, and it is like being pulled from their homes. So we will work tirelessly to hold DOCCS accountable as the process plays out.”

Hochul: Concern for Workers

A DOCCS spokesman said the agency would be consulting with unions leading up to the closures. 

“DOCCS will work closely with the various bargaining units to provide staff with opportunities for priority placement via voluntary transfers, as well as priority employment at other facilities or other state agencies as a result of the formal Civil Service process that is followed with the closure of a correctional facility,” Thomas Mailey said in a statement. 

Last month, Ms. Hochul, strongly hinting at a number of closures, expressed concern for their impact on employees and local economies. “My question is always about the workers who have made this their career,” she said during a press briefing Oct. 27. 

She and state officials are looking at which facilities could be converted for other uses. “I want to be creative with this,” she said, before suggesting the buildings could be used as substance-abuse treatment centers or even residential facilities. 

Mr. Mailey said DOCCS would be working with the state Office of General Services and Empire State Development “to facilitate the re-use of the closed facilities.” 

6 Facilities Just 44% Full

Taken together, the six facilities can house 3,253 inmates, but had only 1,420 behind bars as of Nov. 8, just shy of 44-percent aggregate capacity. 

Mr. Mailey said DOCCS took a detailed look at each of the state’s 50 correctional facilities for possible closure, basing the review on a number of factors, including infrastructure, program offerings, security levels and specialized medical and mental-health services. Officials also considered the proximity of other facilities in the area to minimize the impact to staff, reuse options and where in the state prior closures had taken place so as to minimize any further impact to communities. 

The department also looked at how recently enacted legislation reforming parole and curtailing the use of solitary confinement might affect the prison population and facilities. 

“We will be able to safely absorb the incarcerated population into vacant beds available at other institutions,” Mr. Mailey said, noting that Elmira Correctional Facility in the state’s western Chemung County will expand its reception capabilities for incoming inmates who would have first gone to Downstate. Willard’s drug-treatment functions will be relocated to Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Chautauqua County, while Rochester’s work-release program will move to Orleans Correctional Facility in Orleans County. 


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