Palmesano Opposes Prison Closures

February 18, 2021

From Assemblyman Phil Palmesano:

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) participated in the Legislature’s Public Protection Budget hearing last week and once again expressed his strong opposition to Gov. Cuomo’s proposed prison closures and utilization of a 90-day fast-track closure notification. This 90-day fast-track closure has been used during the past two budget cycles to announce the closure of 5 additional facilities. The 2021-22 budget proposal submitted by the governor asks the Legislature for the authority to utilize this insulting process once again, allowing the governor to close ANY correctional facility he chooses with a 90-day notification within the next two years by March 31, 2023. The governor has already closed 17 prisons statewide and proudly announced to employees and their respective local communities, just 4 days before Christmas, three more for closure by March 31. The governor announced plans to close the Clinton Annex, Gowanda and Watertown Correctional Facility.

“The Legislature should outright reject the governor’s request for this 90-day closure authority,” said Palmesano.

Under current state law, the governor must provide employees and communities at least 12 months’ notice before any closure can take place. Palmesano says the 90-day fast-track prison closure process just adds insult to injury to the employees, families and local communities impacted by these closures.

“Prison closures are already devastating to the employees, families and local communities, but fast-tracking these closures in 90 days 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,” said Palmesano. “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.”

Palmesano also questioned the logic of placing more inmates into fewer facilities, especially during the COVID pandemic.

“Jamming more and more inmates into fewer facilities has already proven to be a dangerous practice with the dramatic rise in assaults we’ve seen over the past five years. In addition, how does forcing more inmates into less space support social distancing and protect staff and inmates during COVID-19?” said Palmesano.

“The governor continues to boast about the number of correctional facilities he has closed, but he fails to take responsibility for the dangerous, “powder-keg” environment his closures, policies and actions, or lack thereof, has created. The fact of the matter is violence, drug use and gang activity continues to escalate in our prisons,” said Palmesano. “He has failed to provide the necessary tools and resources to curtail the violence and stop drugs from getting into our correctional facilities. He continues to limit and eliminate important disciplinary tools, like restricting the use of special housing units to separate violent and dangerous inmates from other inmates, to help keep other inmates safe, while also helping to keep our correction officers a little bit safer while performing their already-dangerous jobs, ” Palmesano continued. ” It’s common knowledge that drugs in our prisons is a major problem which leads to more violence. It’s also common knowledge that the drugs get into our prisons through the mail and packages or inmate visitation from the outside. Even knowing these facts, the administration canceled a secure vendor package program several years ago to screen mailed packages and has refused to deploy K-9 drug dogs at each facility to better screen inmate visitors.”

“Alarmingly, but not surprisingly, Gov. Cuomo’s closures, policies and lack of action have led to a dangerous rise in violence inside our state’s correctional facilities, creating this pressure-cooker, powder-keg environment,” said Palmesano. “The numbers don’t lie. Inmate-on-staff assaults are up 38% (from 759 to 1047) over the past five years. Inmate-on-inmate assaults have reached more than 1,000 per year, every year, over the past 5 years, while up 31.6% (from 915 to 1204) since 2015. Unfortunately, time and time again, the governor’s criminal justice policies favor criminals and inmates at the expense of law enforcement officials, crime victims and public safety. This is not just a terrible idea. It’s a dangerous idea. I will continue to stand with and advocate for the brave men and women in law enforcement who protect us on a daily basis, and I urge my legislative colleagues to do the same.”