Republicans and corrections officers express opposition to Hochul’s proposal to shut down as many as five prisons

Ashley Hupfl, a reporter for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, wrote an article discussing a new initiative aimed at improving educational opportunities for low-income students.

Last week, state Assemblyman Chris Tague and a group of Republicans held a press conference to voice their opposition to the governor’s plan of potentially shutting down up to five prisons. During the conference, prison employees also joined in protesting the proposal.

In her executive budget released last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul proposed closing up to five prisons in the state of New York. However, she did not provide any specifics on which of the 44 prisons would be affected by this proposal. According to a state report from 2022, the number of individuals in prison in March 2021 was only half of what it was in March 2008.

According to Assemblyman Demond Meeks, a member of the Assembly Committee on Correction, the decrease in the prison population can be attributed to the state’s shift away from the Rockefeller drug laws and the “War on Drugs.”

Meeks expressed his belief that we are moving away from the era of mass incarceration. He questioned why the budget is increasing if prisons are being closed.

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During a speech at the state Capitol, Assemblyman Tague, a Republican from Schoharie, criticized Hochul for making her decision without consulting correctional officers, prison staff, or union representatives.

According to Tague, this proposal will cause chaos and disrupt the lives of families, as well as put inmates and officers in crisis. Tague emphasizes that these employees are already facing the challenges of being overworked, undercompensated, and underappreciated.

According to Republican lawmakers, the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association experiences a significant loss of officers. On average, they lose 54 officers every two weeks, which amounts to approximately 1,400 officers per year. Over a five-year period, this would result in a total loss of around 7,000 officers. A graph presented during a press conference revealed that the number of officers decreased from 19,295 in 2018 to 15,143 in 2023, indicating a loss of 4,152 officers over the course of five years.

The percentage of officers leaving their job has been consistently low since 2003, with a loss of less than 3% of staff. However, 2011 stands out as an outlier with a rate of 4.9%. Interestingly, the number of officers leaving their jobs saw a significant increase in 2021. To help visualize this trend, the graph below displays the staff and incarcerated people population. This data is sourced from a document released by DOCCS on January 1st.

According to DOCCS, there was a 1.8% increase in officers in 2022 and an even greater 4.6% gain in officers in 2023.

The rise in applications may be attributed to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the state’s unemployment rate continues to decrease, more individuals are seeking opportunities, including the position of correction officer trainees. These trainees enjoy a starting salary of $53,223, along with various state benefits.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano suggests that one effective method to attract more officers is by improving their pay and benefits.

According to the Republican, it is essential to provide inmates with the necessary tools and resources to ensure their safety. As he stated, “The numbers don’t lie to people.” He recalls visiting the Livingston Correctional Facility in 2014 with a former colleague and witnessing the staffing conditions at that time. At that point, there was only one correctional officer for every 60 inmates, with double bunking. However, the facility later eliminated double bunks, resulting in a staffing ratio of one officer to 50 inmates, which has remained consistent to the best of his knowledge.

In January, the number of prison inmates stood at 32,766, while there were 15,143 correctional officers. This ratio translates to two prison inmates for every correctional officer.

According to a report by the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research center, the facilities that were closed in 2022 had an occupancy rate of only 43.7% and employed over 1,700 individuals. These six facilities had detained more than 1,400 people.

Violence in prisons is on the rise.

Tague pointed out that there has been a rise in violence in prisons across the state.

“Governor Hochul, we want to address the alarming rise in violence within our prisons and the declining staff numbers and morale. We strongly oppose your proposed actions as they will only further jeopardize the safety and security of our communities, fellow inmates, and the civilian employees who reside and work within our prison system. We cannot stand idly by and witness the devastation it will cause to families.”

The Prison Violence Task Force of DOCCS released a report in June that examined the rise in violence. According to the report, there were 1,469 reported assaults on staff in 2022, marking a 25% increase from 1,177 in 2021. This figure represents the highest number of staff assaults recorded since data tracking began in 1990. Additionally, there were 1,486 incidents of inmate-on-inmate assaults reported in 2022, reflecting a 34% increase from the 1,107 incidents reported in 2021.

Since October, there have been several incidents of assaults on staff, and we will now provide a breakdown of these occurrences.

According to Chris Summers, the President of NYSCOPBA, closing facilities is not the solution to DOCCS’ efforts to resize the system. Summers also presented alternative data regarding the rise in violence.

Summers expressed his concern about the lack of sustainability in this formula.

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