Correctional Officer union and elected officials speak on Southport Correctional Facility closure; blame Gov. Hochul

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Watch the full NYSCOPBA press conference in the player above:

PINE CITY, N.Y. (WETM) – Members of the New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association and elected officials spoke outside Southport Correctional Facility following the State’s announcement this week that Southport and five other correctional facilities will close in March 2022.

According to DOCCS, the six facilities set to close are Moriah Shock, Ogdensburg, Downstate, Southport, Rochester, and Willard Correctional.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I – Corning) put pressure on Governor Kathy Hochul as he brought up concerns over inmate violence, jobs, and taxpayer dollars.

“To Governor Hochul, the increase in violence these closures will cause and create, just as these other ones have created, now falls squarely on your doorstep,” said Palmesano. “You will be held accountable for this.”

According to Assemblyman Palmesano, $45 million in state taxpayer dollars has been invested into Southport Correctional Facility. Now, the question is: what will happen to the vacant prison?

“$45 million of taxpayers’ money,” said Palmesano. “But yet, the state thinks this is a prison we need to close down. This makes absolutely no sense, whatsoever.”

Mark DeBurgomaster, the Western Region Vice President for NYSCOPBA, said these families will have to move.

“Now, these families and communities are all uprooted,” said DeBurgomaster. “Once again, the correction officers who’ve worked through the pandemic, who’ve been the essential workers that’ve worked every day, they didn’t get to work from home. They showed up every day to do their job, being assaulted at record numbers.”

Assemblyman Palmesano said according to the Department of Corrections, over the past five years, inmate on staff assaults have increased over 38% from 759 to 1,047.

The department says the closure is due to a measure in the New York State budget “to close state prisons as the incarcerated population continues to decline and as a fiscally prudent and safe way to save taxpayer dollars.”

Southport and the five other facilities set to close were chosen “based on a variety of factors, including physical infrastructure, program offerings, facility security level, specialized medical and mental health services, proximity of other facilities in the area to minimize the impact to staff, potential re-use options and areas of the state where prior closures have occurred in order to minimize the impact to communities. Consideration of the impact of the recently enacted HALT and Less Is More legislation was also weighed.”

Deburgomaster says the model the state is using is not working and that it’s leading to more assaults on officers in the prisons. He and other officials at the correctional facility said the inmates inside the prison need to be spread out and not moved together into fewer facilities.

The president of the NYSCOPBA responded to the announcement, saying “costly” policy decisions in Albany are to blame and are at the expense of NYSCOPBA employees.

“The numbers tell the real story; despite closing over two dozen facilities the past 10 years, violent attacks on our members have doubled and yet nothing is being done to address it. 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.”

Michael Powers, NYSCOPBA President

In his reaction, Chemung County Executive Chris Moss targeted Governor Kathy Hochul’s office for poor communication in the announcement.

“So much for improved communication between local officials and the Governor’s Office, we find out via a press release that the Southport Facility is one of the selected to be shuttered,” Moss said. “Working with Senator O’Mara to get further details.”

As of November 8, 2021, the total incarcerated population in New York state correctional facilities is 31,469. According to DOCCS, this represents both a total reduction in excess of 12,700 individuals since January 1, 2020, and the lowest total incarcerated population in New York State prisons since 1984.

New York leads the nation with the lowest imprisonment rate of any large state.

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