Zeldin, O’Mara, Palmesano, Criticize Governor Hochul, Over Prison Closures

November 8, 2021

NEW YORK – Today, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R, NY-1), who has been named the presumptive nominee for Governor of New York by both the New York Republican and Conservative Parties, issued the following statement after the Hochul Administration announced it would close six correctional facilities in the State of New York:

“Criminal statutes exist for a reason. If you commit the offense, the criminal should face the consequences. I believe prison populations should be set based strictly on that principle. Kathy Hochul believes prison populations should be set based on political calculations. And get this! Hochul thinks we don’t need as many prisons because the inmate population is just naturally decreasing. If there’s one thing we know it’s not because there’s a decrease in crime. It’s because one-party rule is decreasing enforcement and siding with criminals over law-abiding New Yorkers.”

From Senator Tom O’Mara:

Elmira, N.Y., November 8—State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) strongly criticized today’s announcement by Governor Kathy Hochul that the Southport Correctional Facility is scheduled to close on March 10, 2022. O’Mara said, “Governor Hochul’s abruptly announced decision to close the Southport Correctional Facility comes as a great shock to this community and region. It arrived with no advance warning and, obviously, no meaningful local input or outreach to local officials or the correctional officers union. The surprising decision impacts hundreds of local correctional officers and prison staff, which means hundreds of local families and a devastating toll on already hard-hit local economies. It shows a disregard for Upstate New York’s communities and simply turns a blind eye to an increasingly violent crime wave throughout this state, as well as a currently explosive and dangerous prison environment that threatens correctional officers and prison staff. Governor Hochul needs to be transparent about its decision to close Southport. What factors justify closing a ‘supermax’ facility like Southport? What will it mean for public safety across this state? What measures are being considered for the future of the facility itself, but most importantly for the employees and their families, and the community at large? There are plenty of unanswered questions and we will immediately be reaching out to the Hochul administration to get answers. The bottom line is that Governor Hochul should be focused on spreading out the inmate population, decreasing inmate density, and protecting the men and women working in our prisons.

“Despite the recent trend of lowering prison population, we have not seen a correlating reduction of violence within the prisons. We read weekly of violent assaults by inmates on staff and other inmates occurring at Elmira Correctional Facility. We need to focus on safer prisons. The lower prison population should be capitalized on to spread inmates out for greater safety within the system as a whole.”

O’Mara noted that the state has recently invested $20 million into operations at the Southport facility implementing a step-down program to work with the most violent inmates in the state’s prison system to get them ready for reintegration into the general prison population.

O’Mara and many other lawmakers have been critical of former Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrat supermajorities for actions over the past several years that they believe have focused on emptying state prisons for political gain.

That criticism has continued into the new Hochul administration.

“Governor Hochul has, so far, surprisingly and wrongly continued the radical and politically motivated actions of the former Cuomo administration and the Legislature’s one-party-control, downstate Democrat supermajorities to empty state prisons at any cost, especially the cost of public safety and security. Over the past several years up to now, we have seen action after action, from the disastrous bail reform to a radically lenient Parole Board, advancing a pro-criminal mentality over public safety and security and victims’ rights. It has emboldened this society’s criminal element,” O’Mara said.

From Assemblyman Phil Palmesano:

“Gov. Hochul announced the closure of six additional state Correctional Facilities, including Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County and the Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County, by March 10, 2022. Two of the six facilities are considered maximum security, which harbor the most dangerous criminals in New York state. The closing of Downstate, Ogdensburg, Moriah Shock and Rochester, along with Southport and Willard, will negatively affect over 1,300 correctional officers and sergeants who are projected to be displaced, in addition to the negative impact these closures will have on local communities. This is a continuation of the administration’s fast-track state prison closures with only 90-days’ notice. This is in blatant disregard to a 2005 state law that requires 12-months’ notice for a prison closure. The fast-track prison closure process just adds insult to injury to the employees, families and local communities impacted by these closures. Unfortunately, Gov. Hochul has chosen to follow in the footsteps of former Gov. Cuomo, whose dangerous policies and prison closures put correctional officers in harm’s way for years.

“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. 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.

“Gov. Hochul is ignoring the dangerous, “powder-keg” environment created by these closures, policies and actions. The fact of the matter is violence, drug use and gang activity continues to escalate in our prisons. Gov. Hochul has failed to provide the necessary tools and resources to curtail the violence and stop drugs from getting into our correctional facilities. She 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 correctional officers a little bit safer while performing their already-dangerous jobs. It’s common knowledge that drugs in our prisons are 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 previous administration canceled and Gov. Hochul has still not instituted a secure vendor package program to screen mailed packages and has refused to deploy K-9 drug dogs at each facility to better screen inmate visitors.

“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?

“Gov. Hochul will say we have fewer inmates, and therefore, we need to close more prisons. However, the administration refuses to answer the question, ‘how, even with fewer inmates, do dangerous violence and assaults inside our correctional facilities continue to rise?’ Prison closures are not the answer. It will further exacerbate the staggering rise of inmate-on-staff assaults, which 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, up 31.6% (from 915 to 1204) since 2015. Unfortunately, Gov. Hochul’s criminal justice policies are no different than her predecessor’s, in favor of 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.

“This announcement of the six prison closures comes just before the holiday season, creating additional stress and uncertainty for our brave correctional officers, staff and their families. This is unacceptable and dangerous and I will continue to speak out against the governor’s misguided prison closures and failed criminal justice policies.

“Let me be clear, the continued increase in violence and assaults these additional prison closures will create, now falls squarely on Gov. Hochul’s doorstep.”

From Assemblyman Joe Giglio: Assemblyman Joseph M. Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda), Assembly Minority Ranking Member on the Corrections Committee, called the plans by Gov. Kathy Hochul to close six facilities in the New York state prison system in March 2022 “a disastrous leap forward down the path forged by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.”

The six facilities slated for closure are: Southport Correctional Facility, Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, Rochester Correctional Facility, Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, Downstate Correctional Facility and Willard Drug Treatment Campus.

“It is unconscionable to put the public in such danger now, as courts are finally opening after the pandemic closure and cases are being heard, bringing criminals to trial and into custody and serving sentences where they can no longer harm innocent citizens,” Giglio said.

“Prison population numbers are artificially low right now and the closure of these facilities – two of which are maximum security or higher – is essentially handing the state over to criminals. This is a premature and dangerous step,” said Giglio.

“This state began a terrible policy several years ago of putting the interests of violent offenders above the safety of the public and prison workers. By closing more facilities and combining populations, our officers and prison staff are at greater risk of injury at the hands of violent offenders in cramped conditions. Attacks on officers have doubled over the past ten years in the wake of more than 20 facility closures in that same timeframe. Not only are officers at greater risk, but inmate-on-inmate violence has increased with the closure of these prisons.

“Additionally, the closure of prisons is a death sentence to communities across the state that provide jobs for correction officers and support staff. Hailed as cost-saving measures, prison closures leave crumbling facilities, vacant homes, increased unemployment and changes in infrastructure needs and tax base. A prison closure is so much more than moving prisoners from one facility to another.

“This is no plan for the future, as the streets become more dangerous and violent with the recent changes to the criminal justice laws enacted in this state. It is time to carefully rethink, rebuild and reorganize the criminal justice system in New York state. Recent so-called reforms that release offenders to the streets and close correctional facilities which keep perpetrators from repeating their crimes do nothing to achieve that goal,” Giglio concluded.

BACKGROUND – From The Daily News Online: Union representatives said the department will close six facilities in the coming months, including Rochester Correctional in Monroe County and Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County. Other facilities expected to be closed include Downstate Correctional in Fishkill, Ogdensburg Correctional in St. Lawrence County, Southport Correctional in Pine City, and Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Mineville, Essex County.