OPINION

MY TURN: Palmesano slams Hochul for closing Willard

N.Y. Assemblyman Phil Palmesano
The Willard Drug Treatment Campus is on the most recent list of correctional facilities slated for closure,

Gov. Hochul announced the closure of six additional state correctional facilities, including Southport Correctional Facility in Chemung County and the Willard Drug Treatment Campus in Seneca County, by March 10, 2022. Two of the six facilities are considered maximum security, which harbor the most dangerous criminals in New York state.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano

The closing of Downstate, Ogdensburg, Moriah Shock, and Rochester, along with Southport and Willard, will negatively affect over 1,300 correctional officers and sergeants who are projected to be displaced, in addition to the negative impact these closures will have on local communities. This is a continuation of the administration’s fast-track state prison closures with only 90-days’ notice. This is in blatant disregard to a 2005 state law that requires 12-months’ notice for a prison closure. The fast-track prison closure process just adds insult to injury to the employees, families and local communities impacted by these closures. Unfortunately, Gov. Hochul has chosen to follow in the footsteps of former Gov. Cuomo, whose dangerous policies and prison closures put correctional officers in harm’s way for years.

Prison closures are already devastating to the employees, families and local communities, but fast-tracking these closures is simply cruel and shows a complete lack of respect for the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to work a very dangerous job to keep us safe. Although the administration always likes to claim employees will not lose their jobs, 90 days is clearly not enough time for families to uproot their lives, travel hours away for work and find new homes and new schools for their kids. These personal hardships are just compounded many times over by the destructive impact these closures have on the economic well-being of local communities.

Gov. Hochul is ignoring the dangerous, “powder-keg” environment created by these closures, policies and actions. The fact of the matter is violence, drug use and gang activity continues to escalate in our prisons. Gov. Hochul has failed to provide the necessary tools and resources to curtail the violence and stop drugs from getting into our correctional facilities. She continues to limit and eliminate important disciplinary tools, like restricting the use of special housing units to separate violent and dangerous inmates from other inmates, to help keep other inmates safe, while also helping to keep our correctional officers a little bit safer while performing their already-dangerous jobs. It's common knowledge that drugs in our prisons are a major problem which leads to more violence. It's also common knowledge that the drugs get into our prisons through the mail and packages or inmate visitation from the outside. Even knowing these facts, the previous administration canceled and Gov. Hochul has still not instituted a secure vendor package program to screen mailed packages and has refused to deploy K-9 drug dogs at each facility to better screen inmate visitors. 

Jamming more and more inmates into fewer facilities has already proven to be a dangerous practice with the dramatic rise in assaults we’ve seen over the past five years. In addition, how does forcing more inmates into less space support social distancing and protect staff and inmates during COVID-19?

Gov. Hochul will say we have fewer inmates, and therefore, we need to close more prisons. However, the administration refuses to answer the question, ‘how, even with fewer inmates, do dangerous violence and assaults inside our correctional facilities continue to rise?’ Prison closures are not the answer. It will further exacerbate the staggering rise of inmate-on-staff assaults, which are up 38% (from 759 to 1047) over the past five years. Inmate-on-inmate assaults have reached more than 1,000 per year, every year, over the past 5 years, up 31.6% (from 915 to 1204) since 2015. Unfortunately, Gov. Hochul’s criminal justice policies are no different than her predecessor’s, in favor of criminals and inmates at the expense of law enforcement officials, crime victims and public safety. This is not just a terrible idea. It’s a dangerous idea.

This announcement of the six prison closures comes just before the holiday season, creating additional stress and uncertainty for our brave correctional officers, staff and their families. This is unacceptable and dangerous and I will continue to speak out against the governor’s misguided prison closures and failed criminal justice policies.

Let me be clear, the continued increase in violence and assaults these additional prison closures will create, now falls squarely on Gov. Hochul’s doorstep.

New York State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano represents the 132nd District, which includes Yates and Schuyler counties and portions of Chemung, Seneca and Steuben counties.