Finger Lakes lawmakers and union reps oppose Cuomo closure plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to close three New York state prisons to help eliminate a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall. State Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, and other local leaders say hands off.

The governor proposes closing three of the state’s 54 correctional facilities no later than Sept. 1. The prisons to be closed would be chosen after a review by state corrections officials.

The Finger Lakes region is home to The Five Points Correctional Facility, Auburn Correctional Facility, and Willard Drug Treatment Campus. The facilities are three of the largest employers in the region.

“Our region is home to thousands of correction officers and prison support staff. They work hard each and every day to keep these facilities secure,” stated Helming.

The senator added she is working with the New York State Law Enforcement Officers Union, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, in opposing the closure plan.

“We cannot balance the state budget on the backs of the corrections staff and the communities where they live, work, and raise their families,” Helming stated.

“We should be addressing the problem of prison violence first before consolidating more inmates into fewer facilities,” she added.

Echoing Helming are other lawmakers including Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, R-Lyons: “When we close prisons, we create a multitude of problems, including threatening the jobs of people who risk their own lives to keep our communities safe from those who commit dangerous felonies and break other laws…”

“Our state prisons are as dangerous as they have ever been, with inmate-on-staff assaults, inmate-on-inmate assaults, and seized contraband at historic levels despite a decrease in the inmate population,” stated Mike Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association.

According to Union Council 82 President Thomas Ingles, “with the last round of prison closures after the unprecedented release of lower level criminals, the state’s prison system was left with a higher concentration of violent inmates packed into each facility. There was no surprise when we started to see the level of violence dramatically increase to the historical levels we see today. Closing three additional prisons and packing these violent criminals into what’s left only puts our prison staff and inmate population at greater risk.”

Seneca County Sheriff Timothy Luce warned that closing three prisons in the Finger Lakes would “compound the already pressing issue of prison overcrowding” and “take jobs away from the dedicated correction officers in the area and add an unreasonable burden to their sister and brother officers in other facilities …”

Since Cuomo took office in 2011, the state’s prison population has decreased by 10,000 to just under 47,000, the lowest in 30 years, and several prisons have been shuttered, according to the governor’s office.

“These new closures are another step toward reversing the era of mass incarceration and recognizing that there are more effective alternatives to lengthy imprisonment,” Cuomo said in a statement.

The closure plan would not anticipate staff layoffs and would provide impacted employees with opportunities to transition to other facilities or positions, according to the governor. In prior facility closures, more than 96 percent of staff have chosen to continue state service, retire, or pursue other opportunities, the governor said.