Debate heats up again about local prisons: Helming says closing more isn’t right

Closing more prisons across New York State would be a public safety ‘disaster’ according to Senator Pam Helming (R-54).

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently proposed Executive Budget includes a proposal that would allow him to close additional state correctional facilities with only 90 days notice.

Since taking office, the Governor has closed 17 correctional facilities. Our region is home to several correctional facilities, including Five Points Correctional Facility, Auburn Correctional Facility and Willard Drug Treatment Campus.

For Sen. Helming, a pair of major prisons are in the heart of her district. Five Points Correctional Facility, Auburn Correctional Facility and Willard Drug Treatment Campus are all located in the 54th District.

“Serious safety issues already exist in prisons across New York State and closing additional facilities will do nothing to address these problems. One of the main drivers of prison violence is the practice of double bunking inmates together. Although this helps reduce space constraints and contain costs, it significantly raises the risk of injury to both inmates and correctional personnel,” Helming said in a release.

She noted coverage in the Auburn Citizen, which has highlighted a number of safety challenges at the Auburn Correctional Facility.

“Correction officers already have one of the toughest and most dangerous beats in law enforcement,” she continued. “As a State, we have a duty and obligation to do our best to protect public safety, keep our communities safe and give law enforcement the tools they need to stay safe and do their jobs. Additional prison closures would only exacerbate these issues and make conditions inside prisons more dangerous.”

Michael B. Powers, President of NYSCOPBA agreed, and proposed a solution to the prison system issues that have existed since the closures began a number of years ago.

“Let’s right-size the prison system by eliminating double-bunking, which will create a safer environment for both incarcerated individuals and staff,” he said. “The last thing we need is prisons to be shuttered, especially on short notice and without public input, and the economies of upstate communities to be gutted from the aftermath.”

He called on the legislature and Governor to work with them to find solutions and make prisons safer. “State policies have created dangerous situations inside prison walls and put our members at risk,” Powers added.

While not addressed in Sen. Helming’s press release – both Auburn Correctional and Five Points represent major employers in Cayuga and Seneca counties respectively. In past years, dialogue around these prisons have centered on the economic losses that could be incurred if the facilities were shut down.

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