The influential New York Times jumped on the prison-closure band-wagon late last week, praising Governor Andrew Cuomo for promising to end the use of corrections-facilities as job engines.
The North Country has eighteen state prisons, as well as one Federal facility in Ray Brook, making incarceration one of the leading sources of high-wage jobs in the region.
In a lead editorial, the Times argues that as many as ten prisons should close state-wide, though it doesn’t say where the ax should fall or what should happen to the rural economies that often rely on these facilities
To get the Legislature to agree to shut these facilities, Mr. Cuomo will have to push back hard against the corrections workers’ unions that have thwarted sound closure proposals from all three of his predecessors.
The case for closures is laid out in a new analysis by the Correctional Association of New York, a nonprofit group. New York’s prison population has dropped from about 71,500 at its peak in 1999 to around 56,000 today.
This has left more than 8,000 empty beds, meaning that the state could close or significantly downsize eight to 10 of the 67 units in the system and still have ample room to handle any unexpected spike in the population. The savings would be $220 million in the first year.
Cuomo will also face stiff opposition from lawmakers — many of the Republican — who are loathe to see corrections jobs lost.
This debate comes as part of a national conversation over the costs and impacts of high rates of incarceration.
The latest census figures show that in 2008, there were 7.3 million Americans in the criminal justice system — in jail, prison, or on parole — the highest number ever, according to the Times.
To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of the entire populations — men, women and children — of Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, and Vermont combined.