January 29, 2011

Cuomo may scale back prison-closing plan

Under pressure before the budget, Cuomo appears to be scaling back his plans for prison reform.

"Nearly a month ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a call to close some prisons an emotional capstone of his first annual address to the Legislature, vowing, to sustained applause from fellow Democrats, that underused prisons would no longer be “an employment program” for upstate New York.

The issue has long prompted resentment, particularly for families of New York City residents who are shipped hours north of the city to be incarcerated, to places like the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, which is perched in the northern Adirondacks.

But now Mr. Cuomo appears to be, at least partly, in retreat.

The governor and his staff had considered closing or consolidating potentially 10 or more adult and youth prisons and other facilities controlled by the corrections department, but they have faced stiff resistance from Senate Republicans, who are trying to fend off the loss of hundreds of state jobs in some of their upstate districts.

Now the governor appears to be scaling back his ambitions, those with knowledge of his plans said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to talk on the record about the governor’s budget deliberations ahead of the budget’s completion.

Any plan to shutter specific prisons is unlikely to be included in the budget Mr. Cuomo releases on Tuesday and will be left to negotiations with the Legislature as it hammers out a final budget over the next two months.

The governor’s office has already signaled a willingness to accommodate Republicans; a plan floated on Friday in The New York Post suggests as few as six prisons would be closed, three of them in New York City, including two that house work-release programs.

If the new strategy holds, it would sharply curtail Mr. Cuomo’s ambition and could ultimately even increase the proportion of prisoners sent upstate."

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