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New York considers prison closures amid staffing crisis

In response to a severe staffing crisis, New York’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) is considering the closure of up to five state prisons. Acting DOCCS Commissioner Daniel Martuscello, during a recent budget hearing, cited 3,800 vacant positions, including 1,900 corrections officers, as a primary reason for this proposal in the 2024-25 state budget. Additionally, a significant decrease in the incarcerated population over 25 years has led to excess capacity, with 6,000 vacant staffed beds and another 6,000 beds consolidated to address staffing issues.

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Governor Kathy Hochul is seeking legislative approval to expedite these closures, which would allow for a 90-day notice period. Specific prisons targeted for closure have not been disclosed, but the state has already shut down 24 facilities and removed over 13,000 prison beds since 2011. The decision is part of an effort to utilize staff more efficiently and maintain essential services.

The proposal, however, faces opposition from the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association. Union President Chris Summers argues that closing prisons will exacerbate staffing shortages and potentially lead to more employee resignations or retirements. He highlights the detrimental impact of mandatory overtime and increased prison violence on staff. Conversely, the Correctional Association of New York supports the initiative, recommending closures based on underutilization and advocating for measures to attract and retain qualified staff in remaining facilities. The state budget, including these potential prison closures, is slated for completion by April 1, marking the beginning of the new fiscal year.