Cuomo: “reducing the madness of an incarceration society”

loop_oh via/Flickr
January 10, 2014

In his state of the state speech this week, Governor Cuomo blasted New York's state prison system, calling it part of the "madness" of mass incarceration in New York.

That tough language follows a declaration in his state of the state address three years ago that prisons should no longer be used as economic development tools in rural upstate communities.

Cuomo started with the good news. The crime rate is down, and so is the prison population: for the first time in decades, New York is pulling back on how many people it incarcerates.

“We are reducing the madness of an incarceration society and ending a system of unnecessary human and financial waste. And now we have eliminated 5500 prison beds.”

State Senator Betty Little, whose district includes a network of state and Federal prisons, said Cuomo’s language about New York's prison industry doesn't play well Upstate, where corrections work is a major part of the economy.

"It doesn’t, and I think we think differently about crime we think that there should be punishment and penalties for committing crimes and I’m not so sure that people in the New York City area or the metropolitan area think about that as much as we do."

But the majority of men and women behind bars in New York are from metropolitan areas, and according to Cuomo, it’s actually the moment when they get out, and go back home that needs more of the state’s resources.

“The bad news is there’s a revolving door where 40 percent of the people who are released from prison wind up back in prison.”

He said the way to change that is more job training, and more access for the thousands of people re-entering society with a felony on their record.

Reducing recidivism means less crime, it means safer communities, it means fewer tax payer dollars being spent on incarceration.

Senator Little, a Republican from Queensbury, says she supports the idea of boosting programs designed to stop that revolving door, and acknowledges that a lot of the vocational and educational programs prisons had in the past have lost funding and aren’t there any more.

“I don’t think we’re doing a great job in the transitional area as we transition people from the prison population to the community.”

Four state correctional facilities are slated to close this year Butler Correctional in Wayne County, Chateaugay in Franklin County, Monterery Shock in Schuyler County and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County.

The corrections officer union NYSCOPBA plans a rally in Albany at the end of the month, to try and build support for preventing further prison closures.

In addition to the “re-entry council” he proposed, Cuomo also argued that New York should raise the age at which kids are prosecuted as adults.

New York state is currently one of only two states—the other is North Carolina—that incarcerates 16-year-olds as adults. Cuomo announced creation of a committee that will look at changing how sixteen and seventeen year olds are prosecuted.