Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Glenn S. Goord, Commissioner

Office of Public Information
[518] 457-8182
www.doccs.ny.gov

For immediate release:

11 a.m. on Friday, January 23, 2004

Prison Commissioner Goord says 'Fewer crimes mean fewer inmates;'
projects state prison population will decline for fifth consecutive year

"Fewer crimes mean fewer inmates," Commissioner Glenn S. Goord said today, as he announced projections showing the prison population is expected to drop by 1,000 inmates in Fiscal Year 2004-05.

While that decline in the prison population comes among nonviolent offenders, violent felons are serving longer sentences and being denied parole. In fact, that growing percentage of inmates serving prison sentences for violent crimes is the highest in 15 years. The increase required a record-setting construction program to build the prison cells to house them to protect the public and prison staff.

Those prison cells for violent offenders are necessary because FBI statistics show New York's criminal justice policies have contributed to a 45 percent decline in total index crimes in New York State between 1994-2002, with a 49 percent drop in violent crime. Nationally, FBI data show a more modest 23 percent decline in index crimes, with a 31 percent decline in violent crimes.

The prison population is expected to decline to the Fiscal 2003-04 target of 65,100 inmates by March 31, 2004. Commissioner Goord projects a further decline in Fiscal 2004-05 that will bring the prison population to 64,100 inmates by March 31, 2005.

Should that occur, it would mark the fifth year in a row in which the Department of Correctional Services saw a decline in the inmate population. Due to the decline to date, the prison system will reduce capacity by 1,114 excess beds in the two months remaining in this fiscal year.

"The decreasing inmate population is, in part, driven by Governor George E. Pataki's anti-crime agenda that has produced historic declines in crime on our streets," Commissioner Goord said. "At the same time, the Governor's prison policies have been effective in reducing inmate violence in prison. His policies also occupy more inmates than ever in productive programs. That contributes to fewer crimes on our streets and lower rates of inmates returning to prison for the commission of new crimes."

New York's inmate population decline is among the medium- and minimum-security inmates housed in barracks and dormitories across the state. It is driven, in large part, by the Governor's "right-sizing" policy: Allowing 56,370 nonviolent offenders to earn early release since 1995 by participating in rehabilitative programs, while building maximum-security prison cells to house the violent and predatory felons who are serving longer prison terms under his sentencing reforms. His construction of 2,475 double-occupancy cells is the largest maximum-security construction project in state history.

The Governor's tough sentencing reforms have driven the number of inmates incarcerated for violent crimes up to 56 percent of the prison population, compared to only 52 percent in 1994. Today's is the highest percentage since the 59 percent recorded in 1988.

His mandate that nonviolent inmates seeking early release participate in programs contributes to their increased success - and the commission of fewer crimes - once they are released from prison. Among inmates released in 1998 and tracked for three years, there has been a 33 percent decline in the proportion of parolees returned to prison for new crimes, compared to those released in 1988.

The number of inmates eligible for work release has also declined sharply, contributing to safer communities across the state. In 1995, Governor Pataki barred from work release those offenders who committed violent acts. That resulted in a 77 percent decline in inmate participants, from an average of 6,300 inmates a day in 1994 to an average of 1,473 a day in 2003. It also led to a 93 percent drop in work release inmates arrested for allegedly committing new crimes, from 1,968 in 1994 to 144 in 2003.

Inmate-on-staff assaults occurred at a rate of 8.6 incidents per 1,000 inmates last year, the lowest rate since 1979, when the Department first began tracking such data. The declining incident rate is in part due to reducing idleness by programming more inmates in the academic, vocational, work and drug treatment programs necessary for nonviolent inmates to earn early release.

The Governor's anti-crime agenda and prison reforms have driven the prison population from a high of 71,898 inmates in December 1999 to today's 65,125. The number of "state readies" in county jails awaiting transfer to state prison has also declined, by 96 percent, from 4,271 "state readies" in July 1999 to 188 today. There are 1,100 empty general confinement beds today in prisons housing males.

To address the declining inmate population and the increasing number of excess beds in the prison system, Commissioner Goord proposed four initiatives to be implemented in the next 14 months:

  • Continuing a takedown plan begun three years ago, 892 top double bunks will be vacated by March 31 at the medium-security Cape Vincent, Riverview, Watertown, Marcy, Orleans and Collins prisons. Inmates in those beds will be housed in empty beds in other prisons. These 892 beds will be "vacated," meaning they will remain unoccupied but left in place in case of emergency need. About 260 staff will be reassigned from these six prisons. This initiative will reduce costs as reassigned staff fill vacant posts at other prisons now being staffed with overtime.
  • Transferring the 222 inmates remaining at the Fulton work release prison in The Bronx to vacant slots in the closest work release prisons, Edgecombe and Lincoln in Manhattan, by March 31. Completing a Fiscal 2001-02 initiative, the last 107 staff remaining at the minimum-security Fulton facility will be offered reassignment and the prison closed, saving $7 million annually.
  • In the 2004-05 fiscal year, half of a projected 1,000-inmate population decline will be accommodated by closing both the 258-bed, minimum-security Camp Pharsalia and the 300-bed, minimum-security camp attached to the medium-security Mt. McGregor prison. The 189 employees at the two camps will be offered reassignment. This initiative saves $11 million in annual operating costs and avoids $5 million in new construction necessary in the next few years to maintain these facilities.
  • Negotiating a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allowing it to expand its detention space in New York by filling the remaining 500 projected empty beds. The beds would be used to house criminal aliens awaiting deportation proceedings. Those deportable aliens would come from among the 1,700 inmates DOCS now releases annually to ICE custody for deportation purposes. ICE would pay $85 per diem for each detainee, generating a maximum annual payment to the state of $15 million, offsetting bed costs. If a contract cannot be executed, 500 more beds will be vacated or closed. That would require a reduction of an undetermined number of staff depending upon which beds are affected.

Staff vacancies will be sufficient to offer reassignment to the approximately 556 employees affected at these nine facilities. Due to a hiring freeze implemented three years ago, there are now approximately 360 uniformed and 580 civilian vacancies in the system. Approximately 30 uniformed and as many more civilian vacancies occur every bi-weekly payroll period, through normal attrition, as staff leave state employment.

At the same time, Commissioner Goord said, a statewide audit is continuing to assess inmate-to-staff ratios, such as for teachers and counselors, as the system downsizes. Prison programming is also being audited to ensure each facility has the appropriate number of vocational instructors and other personnel. The audit process will ultimately lead later this year to a realignment of staffing. That will ensure all facilities have the appropriate staff to meet these goals in providing meaningful levels of programming for all inmates.

The plan to reduce the number of prison beds as the inmate population fell was announced in 2000-01 when Commissioner Goord publicly targeted a total of 6,600 beds in 36 prisons for takedown. "This takedown plan will make these facilities even safer and easier to manage while placing less stress on their physical plants," he explained in an April 24, 2001, press release. It added 22 targeted facilities to the original list of 14 targeted facilities included in his Oct. 20, 2000, press release that first announced the takedown plan. Both press releases are available on the DOCS website.

The 6,600 beds fell into three categories: top double bunks in mostly barracks-style housing units, "squeeze beds" that were added to mostly dormitory-style housing units and beds whose removal would improve operational efficiency, such as those obstructing doors or walkways or that obstructed officers' sight lines.

Since then, 5,500 (or 83 percent) of the targeted beds have already been vacated while 1,087 (or 81 percent) of the temporary jobs attendant to the targeted beds have been attrited voluntarily by staff. The lag in attriting jobs confirms DOCS kept its promise to only attrit staff after inmate beds were vacated.

Commissioner Goord said "Our goals for the next 14 months begin with making our prisons even safer by vacating more double bunks in medium-security prisons. Recognizing the decrease in inmates eligible for minimum-security placement, we are targeting some of those beds as well. Throughout the process, our goal will be to reassign jobs to ensure full staffing that safeguards our employees and the inmate population. Both uniformed and civilian staff will be reassigned in accordance with their contractual agreements as well as Civil Service laws and rules."

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Attached is a data sheet providing the facility-specific impact of these initiatives.

The numbers behind DOCS' 14-month inmate population reduction plan

The numbers below provide more specifics on the initiatives presented in Commissioner Glenn S. Goord's January 23, 2004, press release on staffing and inmate population initiatives for the balance of Fiscal 2003-04 and the upcoming Fiscal 2004-05:

  • Cape Vincent in Jefferson County will net 242 uniformed jobs (a decrease of 79) and 882 beds (a decrease of 240 beds). It will also lose three civilian jobs: a teacher, a chaplain and a senior drug treatment counselor.
  • Riverview in Ogdensburg in St. Lawrence County will net 242 uniformed jobs (a decrease of 71 jobs) and 882 beds (a decrease of 240 beds). It will also lose six civilian jobs: a chaplain, a teacher, a counselor and three vocational instructors.
  • Watertown in Jefferson County will net 244 uniformed jobs (a decrease of 18 jobs) and 670 beds (a decrease of 83 beds.) It has a higher inmate-to-staff ratio than neighboring Cape Vincent or Riverview because it is not a purpose-built prison. Its layout requires additional officers to provide proper security coverage. Watertown will also lose two civilian jobs: a teacher and a recreation program leader.
  • Orleans in Albion in Orleans County will net 275 uniformed jobs (a decrease of 34 jobs) and 1,082 beds (a decrease of 150 beds). It will also lose one civilian job: a vocational instructor.
  • Marcy in Oneida County will net 315 uniformed jobs (a decrease of 33 jobs) and 1,281 beds (a decrease of 120 beds). It will also lose three civilian jobs: a teacher, a recreation program leader and a counselor.
  • Collins in Erie County will net 403 uniformed jobs (a decrease of 10 jobs) and 1,253 beds (a decrease of 59 beds). Collins will not lose any civilian staff under this initiative.
  • Fulton in The Bronx has seen its population drop from 741 inmates in December 1994 to 222 earlier this month. A total of 35 staff have already attrited voluntarily from its work force. That leaves a total of 107 staff, including 59 uniformed and 48 civilian, to be reassigned as the facility is closed.
  • Camp Pharsalia in South Plymouth in Chenango County has a total of 105 employees, including 71 uniformed and 34 civilian. Closing it will save $6 million in annual operating costs. In addition, that will avoid the need to spend $4 million in the next two years for necessary capital construction projects. They include a new sewage treatment plant and rehabilitation of the electrical system.
  • McGregor camp in Wilton in Saratoga County is operated from within the budget of the adjacent 544-bed, medium-security Mt. McGregor prison. While DOCS identifies the final number of employees apportioned to the camp, the total is expected to be approximately 84, including 74 uniformed and 10 civilian personnel. Closing it will save $5 million in annual operating costs. That will avoid the need to spend $1 million in the next two years for necessary capital construction projects. They include such projects as fire alarm systems, masonry repair projects and electrical system upgrades.