Department of Corrections and Community Supervision

New York State
Department of Correctional Services
Eliot Spitzer, Governor
Brian Fischer, Commissioner

Contact: Erik Kriss
Office of Public Information
(518) 457-8182

For immediate release:

Friday, January 11, 2008

Note: The enacted 2008-09 State Budget included $10.7 million to keep Hudson Correctional Facility and Camps Gabriels, McGregor and Pharsalia operating through March 31, 2009.

New York to Close Correctional Facilities as Part of Continuing Effort to Right-Size State Prison System

With a declining state prison population resulting in part from a sustained, overall drop in crime, New York plans to close the Pharsalia and Gabriels correctional camps, the medium security Hudson Correctional Facility and Camp McGregor, the minimum security camp at Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility, in January 2009.

The camps - Pharsalia (Chenango County), Gabriels (Franklin County) and McGregor (Saratoga County) - are each operating at about one-half capacity. Remaining inmates will be transferred to other camps and possibly other minimum security correctional facilities. Remaining inmates from Hudson (Columbia County) will fill vacancies at other medium security prisons. Hudson’s Work Release component will remain open.

The closures will save taxpayers $10.4 million in operating costs in 2008-09 and $33.5 million annually in operating costs beginning in 2009-10, plus nearly $30 million by avoiding prison capital expenditures. Those savings will help pay the estimated $20.6 million annual operating cost and $70 million two-year capital project cost to the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) to provide expanded treatment and programs mandated by the State Legislature and the courts for mentally ill inmates and incarcerated sex offenders.

The State will seek to help each impacted community by attempting to find another use for the closed facility, working with local officials. And all of the 584 employees (some part-time) at the four facilities will be offered jobs that become vacant at other correctional facilities as staff there retire or leave, in accordance with Civil Service rules and union contractual agreements. DOCS intends to work with the four labor unions that represent state correctional employees to ensure smooth transitions for affected workers.

DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer said: “We are entering a new era in New York State corrections where the trends are clear: declining prison population but increasing treatment and services for our mentally ill inmates and sex offenders. The treatment and services mandated by the courts and the State Legislature are both necessary and appropriate. These services, along with the added emphasis on reentry, are all designed to provide for greater public safety. All such efforts are costly. To help pay for them, closing prisons - particularly those with vacant, unstaffed dormitories - is the right thing to do.”

Employees will be afforded an opportunity to transfer to other facilities, and DOCS is working with the State Department of Civil Service to ensure affected workers receive all available civil service preferences and services.

Department of Civil Service Commissioner Nancy G. Groenwegen said: “The Department of Civil Service will work closely with the affected employees, DOCS and other State agencies to minimize the impact on staff. Our goal is to ensure continued State employment for every affected worker.”

The State Legislature’s enactment of the Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act and a landmark legal settlement with Disability Advocates Inc., an advocacy group for mentally ill inmates, both took effect in April 2007. They require DOCS to hire 375 additional employees and undertake $70 million in new capital projects to provide vastly enhanced mental health services and sex offender treatment programs. Meantime, the cost of providing medical services to inmates continues to rise, with a projected increase of nearly $4.6 million for 2008-09.

Since late 1999, New York’s prison population has dropped by about 13 percent, from a peak of nearly 71,600 inmates to below 62,500 – a decrease of more than 9,000. But during that time, DOCS took down or designated for emergency use only 6,228 beds – far short of the population decline. The population decrease is expected to continue. By the end of the next fiscal year, March 31, 2009, the inmate population is projected to be 300 lower, and by March 31, 2010, about 700 lower.

Besides the drop in crime, the population decline can be attributed to implementation of appropriate early release programs mandated by the Legislature for non-violent offenders, including Shock Incarceration, Work Release, Comprehensive Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment, Willard Drug Treatment programs, Merit Time, and Rockefeller Drug Law reform, which included Supplemental Merit Time. Combined, those legislative changes have resulted in the release of 87,528 inmates through 2007 on average 8.4 months earlier than had the laws remained unchanged.

From 1996 through 2007, the number of inmates at medium security prisons decreased by 18 percent and the number at minimum security facilities dropped by 47 percent. At the same time, the State has cracked down on violent felons; the number of inmates housed at maximum security prisons increased by 19 percent during that time. In 1996, violent felony offenders accounted for 51.3 percent of the system. By the end of 2007, they made up 57.9 percent. Conversely, drug offenders made up 35 percent of the prison population at the end of 1994 and only 21 percent by the end of 2007.

Camps no longer serve the correctional functions they did 20 years ago. By law, only inmates 24 months to release can be placed at camps, and those inmates are typically in need of the kind of reentry services such as educational, vocational, skill building and treatment programs that camps provide only minimally. Also, program requirements for merit time, supplemental merit time and conditional release, as well as medical and mental health services, are not as available at camps. Inmates that would have been placed in camps 20 years ago are now sent to other facilities that offer programs with proven track records of success such as CASAT and Shock. Some minimum security camps, including the ones slated for closure, now have vacant dormitories.

Given DOCS’ creation of nearly 5,000 new maximum security beds for violent felons since 1997, the sharp decline in the number of non-violent inmates and the changing nature of camps makes closure of one medium security prison and three minimum security camps the logical management decision.

Cost Savings by Facility to be Closed

- Hudson (422 beds, about 415 inmates in general confinement), annual operating savings of $15.7 million beginning in 2009-10, plus $21,755,000 by avoiding needed five-year capital project costs. The Hudson Work Release Program, which serves inmates in the Capital District, will continue to operate with its current capacity of fifty-five (55).

- Camp McGregor (300 beds, about 150 inmates), annual operating savings of $4.2 million beginning in 2009-10, plus $310,000 in avoiding capital construction costs. The medium security portion of Mt. McGregor Correctional Facility will continue to operate.

- Camp Pharsalia (258 beds, about 165 inmates), annual operating savings of $6 million beginning in 2009-10, plus $2,270,000 in capital-cost avoidance.

- Camp Gabriels (336 beds, about 187 inmates), annual operating savings of $9 million beginning in 2009-10, plus $5,299,000 by averting capital construction needs.

In accordance with Correction Law 79-a and 79-b, DOCS is announcing its intent to close these facilities one year ahead of time to all employee labor organizations and other employees and to the local governments in which the facilities are located. As required by the law, DOCS will confer with the Department of Civil Service, the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations and any other appropriate State agencies to develop strategies that attempt to minimize the impact of the closures on the state workforce. And DOCS will consult with local officials, the State Department of Economic Development and other appropriate State agencies to develop strategies to minimize the impact of closure on the local and regional economies.

At least six months before closure, DOCS, again in consultation with the above-listed agencies, will provide a report for a reuse plan for the prison facilities slated for closure. That plan will, in accordance with law, consider the potential to use the facility for another State or local government purpose or to sell it to a private entity for development as a tax-generating business, residential or other purpose.

At a time when program and treatment needs are increasing and the prison population continues to decline, closing these four 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.