2011 Prison Closures
Note: The enacted 2010-11 State Budget calls for keeping Ogdensburg and Moriah Correctional Facilities open. Lyon Mountain and Butler Minimum remain scheduled for closure on January 31, 2011. Revised estimated full annual operating savings from these closures total $12.4 million.
New York’s prison population has dropped by nearly 8 percent in the last three years, from 63,304 at the beginning of 2007 to 58,378 at the end of 2009. The population has dropped by 19 percent since its peak of 71,538 on Dec. 12, 1999.
This decline has resulted from a steady drop in crime and the implementation of appropriate early release programs enacted by the State Legislature.
The population decline is expected to continue; by the end of the 2010-11 fiscal year, March 31, 2011, the population is projected to decrease by another 1,000 below 2009-10 levels.
As a result, the Department of Correctional Services plans to close three men’s facilities and a portion of a fourth by April 2011: the minimum security Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility (in Clinton County) and the minimum security portion of Butler Correctional Facility (Wayne County) by January 31, 2011; and the medium security Ogdensburg Correctional Facility (St. Lawrence County) and minimum security Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility (Essex County) by March 31, 2011. The medium security portion of Butler will remain open.
While the overall number of inmates has declined in recent years, a new set of costly mandates has taken effect since April 2007. The courts required extensive new treatment programs for inmates with mental illness by approving the settlement of a 2002 lawsuit brought by the public interest and advocacy organization Disability Advocates Inc. in April 2007. The same month, the Legislature enacted the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (SOMTA), which required expanded treatment programs for incarcerated sex offenders. In April 2008, the Legislature enacted the Special Housing Unit (SHU) Exclusion Law, which required further enhancements of programs, services and facilities for inmates with serious mental illness and disciplinary confinement sanctions.
Changes in the Law
From the late 1980s through last year, the Legislature enacted a host of laws that offer mostly non-violent offenders early release as an incentive for good behavior and program achievements, including the Shock Incarceration, Work Release, Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment (CASAT), Willard Drug Treatment, Merit Time and Limited Credit Time Allowance programs. Additionally, the Legislature twice reformed the 1973 Rockefeller Drug Laws to allow many drug offenders to apply to have their sentences reduced, to allow some to earn extra time off the minimum period of indeterminate sentences for good behavior and achievement of milestones involving treatment, educational, training and work programs, and, last year, to divert more new offenders into alternatives to incarceration. These changes have already led to the early release of thousands of offenders, virtually all of them non-violent drug offenders, on average eight months earlier than had the laws remain unchanged, resulting in the need for 4,200 fewer prison beds.
Changing Demographics, Changing Configurations
The early releases triggered by changes in the law, a decline in drug commitments by the courts in recent years, and longer determinate sentences for violent felons have resulted in an increased proportion of violent offenders in the inmate population.
While the number of inmates housed at maximum security prisons has declined by just 2 percent since the beginning of 2007, the number of inmates at medium security prisons decreased by 9 percent and the number at minimum security facilities dropped by 34 percent during that time.
And while violent felony offenders accounted for 57 percent of the system at the beginning of 2007, they now account for 60 percent. Conversely, drug offenders made up 22 percent of the system at the beginning of 2007 and only 18 percent today.
In 2008, DOCS took 1,881 beds off line at male medium and minimum security prisons by vacating 47 housing units at 21 facilities where staff vacancies and fewer inmates allowed the department to consolidate within each facility without requiring the transfer out of officers or inmates. DOCS achieved savings by not having to fill already-vacant staff positions. The closure of three male minimum security prison camps in 2009 resulted in the permanent elimination of 894 beds. And the closure of six medium and minimum security male prison annexes in 2009 resulted in the removal of 1,110 beds (which could be reinstated for future use if needed). That still leaves about 1,300 unrestricted general confinement beds vacant today in male medium and minimum security facilities – not including the facilities proposed for closure. The facilities slated for closure in 2011 contain 1,362 beds, but only 851 of those beds were occupied at the end of 2009. Although the Executive Budget would take hundreds of additional beds off-line through consolidation in 2010-11, the prison population is projected to decline by another 1,000 during the 2010-11 fiscal year.
Maximum security facilities and facilities that provide court- and legislatively-authorized drug treatment programs, sex offender counseling services and enhanced mental health and/or medical services are not suitable for closure.
Cost Savings by Facility to be Closed
Combined, the closures are expected to save $3 million in operating costs in 2010-11 and $45.8 million in 2011-12, plus $13.8 million over the next five years by avoiding needed capital construction projects. Those savings will help cover the cost of the enhanced mental health and sex offender programs and help DOCS manage the state prison system within its budget.
Lyon Mountain (91 employees as of 12/31/09; 162 general confinement beds; 135 inmates as of 12/31/09), savings of $7.2 million in annual operating costs, plus $950,000 in capital savings by avoiding needed capital projects over the next three years, including replacing an existing retaining wall ($150,000) in 2010-11, repairing and repointing buildings 2 and 5 ($500,000) and installing metal siding in building 7 ($100,000) in 2011-12, and constructing a storage building ($200,000) in 2012-13.
Butler (minimum security portion) (67 employees as of 12/31/09; 288 beds – only 144 in staffed housing units; 72 inmates as of 12/31/09), savings of $5.2 million in annual operating costs. The medium security portion of Butler will continue to operate. Butler minimum’s other 144 beds are in unoccupied housing units that are no longer staffed, a result of the department’s 2008 housing unit consolidations.
Ogdensburg (287 employees as of 12/31/09; 612 beds – only 490 in staffed housing units; 474 inmates as of 12/31/09), savings of $23.9 million in annual operating costs and $12,431,000 in five-year capital-cost avoidance, including providing shower controls ($300,000), upgrading the site-wide security perimeter closed circuit television system ($800,000) and constructing a hot water boiler house ($9,431,000 plus the recurring annual cost to hire five additional employees to operate it) in 2012-13 to generate heat now provided by an outside supplier, and rehabilitating the Flower Building basement ($200,000) in 2013-14. Ogdensburg’s other 122 beds are in unoccupied housing units that are no longer staffed, a result of the department’s 2008 housing unit consolidations.
Moriah Shock Incarceration (102 employees as of 12/31/09; 300 beds – only 200 in staffed housing units; 170 inmates as of 12/31/09), savings of $9.5 million in annual operating costs and $395,000 in five-year capital construction costs, including renovation of the water tower ($225,000) in 2010-11, upgrading HVAC air handlers to eliminate window air conditioning units ($45,000) in 2011-12, upgrading insulation of building 1 ($50,000) in 2012-13, and replacing mess hall tables ($75,000) in 2014-15. Moriah’s other 100 beds are in unoccupied housing units that are no longer staffed, a result of the department’s 2008 housing unit consolidations.
Annual operating cost savings are based on the 2011-12 State fiscal year, the first full year the closures will be in effect.
DOCS will follow the provisions of Correction Law 79-a and 79-b, which govern the closure of correctional facilities and require DOCS to notify all employee labor organizations, other employees and local government officials a year in advance of closure.
The closures will result in the elimination of approximately 572 staff positions, of which 419 are uniformed. The Department anticipates offering a fillable vacancy to every affected uniformed employee and will strive to identify fillable vacancies for all affected civilian employees. Each month, approximately 84 security staff employees leave the payroll statewide to retire or pursue other opportunities. Attrition should create fillable vacancies for the majority of affected staff.
The Department stands ready to work with the labor unions that represent agency staff to assist affected employees. In 2009, for example, DOCS offered a special, additional re-ranking by seniority of the Correction Officers and Sergeants (who are represented by the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association) on reassignment lists for each annex, affording those employees another opportunity to request transfer to other facilities prior to the annexes’ closure.
Outside inmate community work crews operate out of Butler Minimum (5 crews), Moriah (11 crews) and Ogdensburg (1 crew); those crews will be eliminated when the facilities close. Each crew includes up to 10 inmates supervised by a Correction Officer.
The Department is looking at the ability to run some crews out of other prisons in the areas of the closure facilities.
At a time when program and treatment needs are increasing and the prison population continues to decline, closing these correctional facilities is the most sensible policy for the taxpayers of New York and the operation and effective management of the Department of Correctional Services.
State of New York
Department of Correctional Services
1220 Washington Avenue
State Campus, Building 2
Albany, NY 12226-2050
Brian Fischer, Commissioner