Fifty jobs will be lost after the state Department of Corrections announced the October closing of the annex portion of the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison in Brocton.
According to the New York state Department of Correctional Services Web site, and later confirmed by Assemblyman William Parment and state Sen. Catharine Young, the Lakeview Annex is being targeted for closure by Oct. 1.
"We have at the moment 40 correction officers, five sergeants, two lieutenants and three support staff working at the Lakeview Annex. When the annex closes, that number of jobs at the Lakeview Correctional Facility will be eliminated," said Erik Kriss, Department of Correctional Services Director of Public Information. "It's not the people at the annex who will have to go to another facility; it's the least senior people at Lakeview itself. A more senior officer at Lakeview annex could move over and bump out a less senior officer at Lakeview main and that officer would have to look for a vacancy within Lakeview, or transfer to another facility."
OBSERVER Photo By Matt Panebianco
Pictured is the Lakeview Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Brocton.
Young was disturbed by the announcement.
"We don't need additional job losses in this area," she said. "This (state closings plan) unfairly targets upstate facilities."
The closing of the Lakeview Annex is part of a plan to close seven annexes across the state, totalling 446 positions in all.
"The announcement that the Department of Correctional Services will be closing seven annexes and potentially laying off up to 446 correction officers is the latest in a slew of irresponsible actions taken by this department at the expense of public safety," said Donn Rowe, New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association president.
"This year the state has already closed prisons and proposed disproportional layoffs to the Department of Corrections. At what point will the commissioner put the lives of corrections officers ahead of his bottom line? Endangering the safety of corrections officers and the public at large is not something to compromise."
Rational behind the closing of the annex is being debated. According to Assemblyman Parment's office, only 50 of the 250 beds are currently occupied in the annex.
"I think that's about right but I can't confirm that today," Kriss said regarding the beds at Lakeview Annex. "And that's part of the reason that we're closing them. We have a lot of empty beds in our system, because the prison system population has gone down dramatically over 16 percent since the end of 1999. Among the minimum and medium security inmates, and among the minimum inmates I believe we're down 50 percent over the last decade and we haven't closed many beds."
Part of the decrease in inmates across the state, Young said, has to do with relaxed standards of the Rockefeller drug laws. As part of state budget negotiations, Gov. David Paterson and numerous state lawmakers agreed to allow low-level drug dealers as well as repeat offenders to receive treatment instead of prison time.
"The Governor's actions are very troubling," Young said in a statement. "Recently, radical changes to drug laws were hidden in the state budget that will allow up to 5,000 incarcerated cocaine and heroin drug dealers convicted of serious class B felonies to be released early. These so-called reforms will protect countless drug dealers from ever seeing the inside of a prison cell. More lives will be ruined by addiction and our communities will be less safe ... It's a horrendous bill that (Democrats) have passed."
Enacted in 1973 under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, the Rockefeller Drug Laws mandated harsh mandatory minimum prison terms for the possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs. Advocates against the strict drug laws state that as of 2008, approximately 14,000 people are locked up for drug offenses in New York State prisons, representing nearly 38 percent of the prison population and costing New Yorkers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
On the flip side, Young stated that "A shell game is being played by the state Department of Correctional Services (DOCS). Current information I have received indicates there are 921 shock-ready inmates that could be eligible to fill the 150 slots at the Lakeview Facility, but they are not being sent here. Instead, there is overcrowding at other facilities around the state, making for a very volatile and dangerous situation."
"I don't know where that number is from, but I'm not sure if the annex is for shock inmates," Kriss clarified. "We do anticipate an uptick in the shock incarceration population at Lakeview and our other three shock camps. The new budget changed the law and has increased the eligibility for shock. Right now you can't be 40 years or older and participate in shock, you also have to go into shock directly from reception and shock is a six month program as alternate to a year and a half in prison. Anyone who had a sentence for longer than a year and a half was not eligible for shock until now. Now, you can be up to 49 years of age and participate in shock."
Kriss also stated that for certain crimes that are shock eligible, those inmates who reach three years to their earliest release date could transfer into shock if accepted.
"We do have room for them at Lakeview and the other facilities, even with the closing of the annex," he said.
Other facilities being affected include those in Wayne County, Ulster County, Livingston County, Dutchess County, Sullivan County and Washington County.
"The enacted 2009-2010 New York state budget authorizes me, as Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services, to close or vacate inmate housing as deemed appropriate based upon agency needs," stated Commissioner Brian Fischer in a letter to Department of Corrections employees. "Given the decline in our inmate population, anticipated to continue, I have decided to close this agency's annex units."
Fischer also stated in the letter that employees of all state facilities affected will be assisted or offered jobs at other locations. "The department will make every effort to assist each facility employee to transfer into available vacant positions within the department or with other state agencies."
Young concurred with Fischer's statement regarding the possibility of employee transfer, but argued, in talking to some of the employees at the Brocton complex, that this portion was considered a separate jail and was "never considered an annex in the Department of Corrections system."
Also of concern to Young was a bill inserted into the budget that takes away the provision for a one-year notice if the state is going to close a prison facility.
In the coming weeks, the Department's Personnel Office will be coming out to each facility in order to explain the process by which staff will be assisted in making personal decisions and transitions.
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