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"Calling For Additional Closures Further Jeopardizes The Safety Of NYSCOPBA Members And The Inmate Population,” Statewide Corrections Officers Union Responds To Cuomo Administration’s Plan To Shut 3 Upstate Prisons

Published Thursday, December 31, 2020
by Joe Mahoney/CNHI State Reporter Via The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

(ALBANY, NEW YORK) - The Cuomo Administration has decided to shut three Upstate New York prisons as the state's fiscal crisis deepens and the population of inmates wanes.

State Officials confirmed the Clinton Correctional Facility Annex in Dannemora, Gowanda in Western New York and the Watertown Correctional Facility in Jefferson County will all be closed on March 30.

More than 900 Members of the New York State Corrections Officers Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) - the Union for Corrections Officers, will be displaced.

"We're ‘hoping for no’ layoffs," NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers said, adding: "Regardless of the executive budget that came out earlier, ‘to now drop this (make a formal announcement) just before Christmas, and to ruin our Members’ holiday in a terrible year with COVID, is disingenuous, disrespectful and inconsiderate.’"

The closures are expected to eliminate 2,750 beds in the prison system while resulting in an estimated $89 million per year in savings for the state, according to Thomas Mailey, who serves as spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).

The current statewide inmate population now stands at 34,842, down from 57,229 one year ago, for a reduction of 39%, he noted.

"That's why DOCCS carefully reviewed the operations at its correctional facilities and identified Watertown and Gowanda Correctional Facilities and the Clinton Annex for closure," Mailey said.

The impacted Employees will receive "priority placement" through job transfers with DOCCS or at other state agencies, Mailey said.

The prison system will work with the state Office of General Services for possible reuse of the properties after they are decommissioned as prisons.

Gowanda and Watertown are medium security prisons, while Clinton Annex is classified as maximum security.

State Representative Elise Stefanik (Republican-Schuylerville) urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to reverse the decision to close Clinton Annex and the Watertown prison, saying keeping the prisons allow authorities to keep inmates distant from one another during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another Upstate Lawmaker, state Senator-Elect Dan Stec (Republican-Queensbury) called the move to shut Clinton Annex "a big blow to the North Country."

NYSCOPBA President Powers said the shutting of Clinton Annex will impact about 190 NYSCOPBA-represented Employees - and an additional 40 Civilian Workers at the prison.

Despite the pandemic-restrictions on inmate movements within prisons, Powers said there has been no reduction in violent incidents caused by inmates.

"Calling for additional closures ‘will only serve to condense the prison population within a decreasing number of facilities, further jeopardizing the safety of NYSCOPBA Members and the inmate population as a whole,’” Powers said.

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