Since taking office in 2011, Governor Cuomo has closed 24 prisons and juvenile detention centers as the state saw a decline in prison population.
While he's looking at shuttering three more upstate facilities to fill a budget gap, the corrections officers union worries about the impact the communities that rely on these jobs.
“More inmates in a smaller condensed area create a much more hostile environment for many of our staff, and not just for our staff, but the civilian staff and the inmates alike,” said NYSCOBPA President Michael Powers.
Cuomo last week in amendments to his $175 billion budget proposal included a plan that would empower the state department of corrections to review which prisons could be closed. The final decision would ultimately rest with Cuomo.
NYSCOBPA President Mike Powers says the state should instead stop putting more prisoners in a cell than it was designed for.
“If they were able to remove all the double bunks in our medium security settings, there would be no need to close any prisons,” said Powers.
The proposal comes as the state faces a $2.3 billion revenue shortfall that Cuomo has blamed on federal tax policy. The union says it doesn't want to get in the middle of the politics over the budget.
“I can't speak on budgetary issues,” said Powers. “We advocate for the safety of our members and the well-being of our members and the safe operations of our facilities.”
New York's prison population has steadily declined over the years and with new criminal justice law changes, could be reduced even further. Under Cuomo, the state has closed 24 prisons and related facilities.
At the same time, Cuomo has argued prisons should not be jobs programs. But NYSCOPBA argues there's a human impact.
“They're looking at possibly uprooting their families, moving to another location where there's another prison, it means the loss of a job for their spouse who works in that community,” said NYSCOPBA Executive Vice President Tammy Sawchuk.
Many of the state's 54 prisons are in upstate New York. NYSCOPBA won't say if the region is being targeted, but plans to push back between now and when the budget is due at the end of March.
“I don't have any opinion on that one way or the other, we're just to make sure we oppose those closures,” said Sawchuk.
If approved, the recommendations on the specific facilities would be made in 2020.