What about addressing prison violence?

Top corrections officers and their union were hopeful a new law signed last week that prohibits double-bunked housing in state prisons would help reduce record-high violent attacks on staff and slow the closing of facilities, but the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced Monday the shuttering of six New York correctional facilities early next year.

The six prison facilities to permanently close March 10, 2022, include Downstate Correctional in Dutchess County; Ogdensburg Correctional, St. Lawrence County; Southport Correctional, Chemung County; Rochester Correctional, Monroe County; Willard Drug Treatment Campus, Seneca County; and Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, in Essex County; DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey said Monday.

GLOW region correctional facilities were spared this round of closings (Livingston Correctional in Sonyea was closed in 2019). The six to be closed are well below inmate capacity and will be shut down for that reason, as Gov. Kathy Hochul hinted about pending closures Oct. 27.

“What I found is that there are many facilities, particularly upstate, that are only half full,” Hochul said last month. “We will be looking at a scaling-down initiative.”

The trend in New York has been fewer inmates in state facilities. The total incarcerated population in state correctional facilities is 31,469 as of Monday — a 56% decline since the department’s high of 72,773 in 1999.

Before Monday’s news of the next closures, Hochul signed a bill late last Wednesday that gave prison staff hope in prohibiting double bunking in the state’s correctional facilities.

Double bunking increases the number of inmates housed in a medium-security dormitory typically designed to accommodate up to 50 incarcerated people to between 60 and 90 men or women — diminishing proper supervision and increasing risks to inmate and officer safety at the time of a pandemic.

Before the closures were announced, officials with the state Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents New York’s 21,000 correction officers, said they hoped the law will spread incarcerated people across facilities and slow future closures and ease tensions inside prisons.

NYSCOPBA President Michael Powers criticized the closures Monday amid a historic rise in violent attacks on officers.

As of Nov. 1, DOCCS reports 939 attacks from incarcerated people on prison staff in 2021 — on pace to meet or surpass 2020’s all-time high of 1,047 violent incidents.

“The state’s progressive polices are costly and need to be funded somehow; sadly, it’s at the expense of the hard working men and women of NYSCOPBA,” Powers said. “Where is the reinvestment in the facilities to make these prisons safer working environments? My heart goes out to all of the individuals whose lives have been severely impacted by this announcement and know that our organization will hold the department accountable every step of the way. At some point, the state needs to realize that these choices are more than just buildings and tax-saving measures, these are life-altering decisions that upend lives and destroy communities.”

With six facilities set to close next spring, it’s time to take a step back and address the risks violence poses for inmates and officers before shuttering more prisons and potentially making an already troubling issue worse.

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