Governor Praises 2011 Prison Closures. He Should Close More in 2012.
Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke briefly about the state’s prisons system in his State of the State address Wednesday saying, “We closed 3,800 prison beds because we finally realized that prison operation is not economic development.” He included the closures on a list of his top-five accomplishments of the past year.
The Governor is right in noting that New York State’s economic future cannot rely on locking people up. However, in 2011 the Governor took the politically easy—but patently unjust—route of closing prisons near or in the five boroughs. By failing to close underused rural upstate prisons just to keep jobs like his predecessors, he failed to challenge the idea that prisons can be an effective and sustainable economic development and political strategy.
The sheer size of New York City means its economic state will not significantly be affected by closing prisons, nor will the number of available jobs. It does mean the people in those prisons, 80% of whom come from New York City and the surrounding suburbs, will be transferred to other, likely upstate facilities. To be fair to the families and loved ones of those incarcerated, the Governor should close the prisons that are the farthest away and the hardest to visit.
There are 7,000 fewer people confined in New York State prisons than there were in 2006 and currently 8,000 excess beds according to Gannett Newspaper’s Albany Bureau. The state can easily close those beds and should do so promptly to help our state’s cash-strapped budget and create a more just corrections policy.
We commend the closure of seven state prisons in 2011 and encourage the Governor to close more in 2012, while working with upstate communities to develop sustainable regional economic growth. Milk Not Jails is helping to build a robust agriculture industry in New York State, an economic alternative to corrections-based development. We encourage the Governor to invest more in developing real economic alternatives in rural upstate.
When the state comes together to create an agriculture industry that benefits both upstate producers and downstate consumers, we will pave a just and prosperous path for all of New York’s residents.
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