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Provision in budget to allow Cuomo to speed up prison closures

Provision in budget to allow Cuomo to speed up prison closures

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A budget bill that’s moving toward adoption Wednesday contains a provision allowing Gov. Andrew Cuomo to expedite the closure of more New York correctional facilities.

The public protection and general government budget bill includes Cuomo’s proposal to shutter prisons in the 2020-21 fiscal year if he gives state legislative leaders at least 90 days’ notice — a shorter period than the one-year notification requirement outlined in state law.

There is certain information Cuomo must provide to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, including the list of facilities that will be closed, the number of incarcerated individuals in the prisons and how many employees will be affected.

The bill also requires that Anthony Annucci, acting commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, report on staff relocations within 60 days after the prisons are closed.

With the inmate population declining, Cuomo wants to close more prisons. He has shut down 17 correctional facilities since becoming governor in 2011. In 2019, he closed two prisons — Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison in Manhattan, and Livingston Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in western New York.

As of March 1, there were 43,881 inmates in the state prison system. That’s down from 46,973 in early 2019.

The prisons that could be closed this year haven’t been identified. Annucci testified at a budget hearing in February that the goal is to eliminate 2,500 beds. He said it would be “within the realm of possibility” that at least two or three prisons will be closed. The state has eliminated more than 6,650 beds since Cuomo became governor in 2011. The prison closures have saved the state approximately $193 million a year, according to DOCCS.

Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, criticized the proposed closure of more state prisons in a statement released after Cuomo presented his budget plan in January.

NYSCOPBA opposes prison closures because they argue it leads to overcrowding in the correctional facilities that remain open.

“The last thing we need is incarcerated individuals tightly crammed into prisons, creating nothing more than a powder keg of violence,” Powers said.

State lawmakers are working to finalize the 2020-21 budget amid the coronavirus outbreak in New York. Several policy proposals that were part of the initial public protection and general government budget bill were excluded from the final agreement.

Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at 315-282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision reversed its stance on Wednesday and will allow correction officers and staff to wear masks to protect against the coronavirus while working inside state prisons.

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