New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner
Office of Public Information
For immediate release:
Friday, October 20, 2000
Governor's prison policies succeeding in "right sizing" the system
Focus on locking up violent felons is reducing the need for beds for nonviolent felons
Governor George E. Pataki is redefining the state prison system through his policy of "right sizing," increasing the need for maximum-security cells for violent offenders while decreasing the need for medium-security housing for nonviolent offenders, Commissioner Glenn S. Goord said today.
"Right sizing" - the lengthening of sentences and elimination of discretionary parole for violent offenders coupled with alternative programs for certain nonviolent inmates - has contributed to an average rate of growth of less than 2 percent annually in New York's prison population between December 1994-99.
By comparison, the average rate of growth over the same five-year period was 5 percent annually among all state prison systems. The U.S. Bureau of Prison's population has increased by an average rate of more than 7 percent annually since 1995. (End-of-year data is the latest available for other jurisdictions.)
A look behind New York's prison growth numbers offers a more detailed look at how "right sizing" is affecting the crimes for which inmates are under custody. From December of 1994 through September of 2000, the New York state prison population grew from 66,711 to 70,327, an increase of 3,616 inmates. That is reflected in a:
- 9 percent increase in under custody violent felony offenders, from 34,485 to 37,579.
- 1.6 percent increase in under custody nonviolent felony offenders, from 32,226 to 32,748, and a
- 6.9 percent decrease in under custody drug offenders, from 23,083 down to 21,500.
Commissioner Goord explained, "One side of Governor Pataki's "right-sizing" program led to our construction of 4,950 maximum-security prison beds - the largest such expansion in state history - to take custody of violent 'state readies' and to house in disciplinary units those offenders who become disciplinary problems once they enter state prison. The other side of 'right sizing' led to our programs that will allow 36,832 nonviolent offenders to earn early release from April 1995-2001, through their participation in meaningful rehabilitative programming."
These programs, limited to only certain nonviolent offenders, allow them to earn release prior to completion of their court set minimum sentences. They include:
- Shock incarceration (the six-month "boot camp" program in which the Governor raised the age limit to allow older participants while modifying the physical standards to allow participation by the disabled),
- Merit time (allowing inmates to earn a one-sixth reduction in their minimum sentences) and
- The Willard Drug Treatment Campus (allowing many offenders to undergo 90 days of intensive drug treatment instead of an average return of nine months to a general confinement prison).
Commissioner Goord noted that of those 36,832 inmates earning early release, 5,480 of them would still be housed in medium- or minimum-security prisons next April 1 if not for those programs. That means "right sizing" obviated the need to construct 5,480 lower-security beds. Not having to house those nonviolent inmates, coupled with the construction of 4,950 maximum-security beds to meet the need for space to house violent offenders, has led to a drop in the prison population.
As a result of "right sizing" the system for both violent and nonviolent offenders, the state's 70 prisons are projected to house approximately 2,423 fewer inmates on April 1, 2001, compared to the April 1, 2000, start of the current fiscal year, Commissioner Goord said.
If the projected decline in the under custody population occurs, it will bring the population down from 71,423 inmates on April 1, 2000, to a projected 69,000 inmates on April 1, 2001. Today's under custody inmate population is 70,634, a decrease of 789 since April 1.
Commissioner Goord said, "These numbers show the decrease in the inmate population is already occurring at facilities around the state. Today, I have ordered a freeze on all staff hiring at 14 targeted medium-security prisons that have double bunks. As employees attrit out of those 14 facilities, I will reduce the inmate population at each of them, allowing some of those top bunks to be vacated at all 14 facilities. This will make those facilities even safer and easier to manage while placing less stress on their physical plants."
The 2,423 top bunks to be vacated will be from among the 3,496 now in place at these prisons: Albion (180), Altona (240), Cape Vincent (420), Cayuga (420), Collins (276), Gowanda (300), Lakeview (60), Marcy (420), Monterey (50), Moriah (50), Orleans (420), Riverview (420), Ulster (60) and Watertown (180).
The staff hiring and transfer freeze will not affect the remaining 56 correctional facilities, where staff vacancies will continue to be filled, Commissioner Goord said. Critical exceptions that will be filled at the 14 targeted facilities include, for example, cooks and power plant operators.
Commissioner Goord said, "Any changes in the number of arrests, indictments, convictions or parole release rates will affect new commitments and our projections. We will monitor them and continue to plan accordingly. As a result, while we plan to vacate 2,423 top bunks, the physical beds will remain in place. That means we will have the space available to accommodate any unexpected increase in new commitments. It will also give us something we have never had before: vacant but usable space immediately available in case of an incident or any other emergency for which we might have to relocate a large number of inmates.
"As the population decreases this fiscal year," Commissioner Goord added, "we plan to attrit staff from the targeted facilities through voluntary reassignments coupled with the effect of normal attrition that averages 600 employees a year and the hiring freeze now in effect at those 14 facilities. The net effect of voluntary reassignments, attrition plus the hiring freeze cannot be predicted among a statewide workforce of 20,600 uniformed and 12,150 civilian employees."
Commissioner Goord explained, "That's because I intend to examine staffing and ensure that we retain all the staff we need to operate our facilities safely and securely after the inmate reduction. There is no formula that says we will attrit staff by x for each y drop in the population. We will review the needs of each facility. No exact budgetary implication can yet be attached to the plan. That will be driven by when the population decreases and the workforce attrition occur."
The plan also affects county jails across the state. The number of "state readies" housed in county jails has declined from a record high of 4,425 in July of 1999 to 942 today. The number of "state readies" will continue to decline if projections hold true through April 1, 2001.
Projections for future changes in the inmate population are currently being formulated. Those calculations will be included in the Governor's Executive Budget proposal for next year's fiscal 2001-02 spending plan that will be presented to the public and the Legislature in January.