Schuyler will oppose state prison closures
SCHUYLER COUNTY--After some back and forth with County Attorney Steven Getman, Monday, Nov. 8, the Schuyler County Legislature will wait to pass a measure asking the state to reconsider the recently announced upcoming closures of Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County, and the Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County. Legislator Phil Barnes, who initially brought up the matter, said he wanted a strong response from the legislature and multiple legislators indicated they would be willing to vote. In the end, Getman convinced the body to let him work on their response.
"There is strong; and then complete," said Getman. "I would rather see things done in a complete manner where we are coordinated with the affected counties."
While Barnes and other legislators expressed concern over the possible delay, Legislative Chair Carl Blowers made it clear that the legislature could easily call a special meeting to pass the resolution once Getman completes it.
"We have plenty of time... we are the legislature, we can call a meeting any time we please," Blowers said.
Southport Correctional Facility, a maximum-security institution, and the Willard Drug Treatment Campus, a medium-security institution, are two of six facilities state-wide that were announced in the closure. According to information released by the state, the decision to close the prisons was made by the office of Gov. Kathy Hochul under authority given to her through the state budget. Recent criminal justice reform instituted in New York state has resulted in some of the lowest incarceration totals since the 1980s.
In a release issued to the press, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision stated that as of Nov. 8, 2021, there are 31,469 individuals incarcerated in New York with a reduction of over 12,000 individuals since criminal justice reform was enacted.
Barnes said New York State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R), who serves the 132nd district, was very vocal in his displeasure with the closures.
"Prison closures are already devastating to the employees, families and local communities, but fast-tracking these closures is simply cruel and shows a complete lack of respect for the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to work a very dangerous job to keep us safe," Palmesano said in a prepared statement. "Although the administration always likes to claim employees will not lose their jobs, 90 days is clearly not enough time for families to uproot their lives, travel hours away for work and find new homes and new schools for their kids. These personal hardships are just compounded many times over by the destructive impact these closures have on the economic well-being of local communities."
Having a career in law enforcement, Barnes said during the meeting that he strongly opposed the closures not only because he does not support recent criminal justice reforms but because he has concerns over how quickly the closure is being handled.
"We have a lot of people who work at these facilities who are now worried about their jobs. Will they have to move?" Barnes asked.
Along with local employment concerns, Barnes brought up the fact that some municipalities in other counties are also beholden to their local facilities to provide much of their utilities, including water.
"A lot of people are in panic mode," Barnes added.
Official announcements by the state have said no layoffs would take place, however did not detail how relocations or agency changes would be handled.
"This announcement of the six prison closures comes just before the holiday season, creating additional stress and uncertainty for our brave correction officers, staff and their families," said Palmensano. "This is unacceptable and dangerous and I will continue to speak out against the governor's misguided prison closures and failed criminal justice policies."
Other locations set to close include Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, a medium-security institution in St. Lawrence County, Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, a minimum-security shock institution in Essex County, Rochester Correctional Facility, a minimum-security work-release institution in Monroe County and the Downstate Correctional Facility, a maximum-security institution in Dutchess County.