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January 13, 2008

Start spreading the prison closing news

SinatraWith apologies to Ole Blue Eyes, yesterday's New York Times containing this story about prison closings has me in song parody mood.   Here are the basics of the news story:

The Spitzer administration announced on Friday a plan to close a medium-security prison and three minimum-security camps upstate, citing the declining crime and prison population across the state. Officials said the move would save taxpayers upward of $70 million in the next few years.

The closing of the four prisons — the medium-security Hudson Correctional Facility in Columbia County and the minimum-security camps Pharsalia in Chenango County, Gabriels in Franklin County and McGregor at Mount McGregor Correctional Facility in Saratoga County — will be felt in the counties where the prisons have provided steady, good-paying jobs.

“We are very concerned with his plan, especially in light of the governor’s push to release criminals out of prison early through the parole system,” said Mark Hansen, a spokesman for the Republican Senate majority.  “We have some very serious questions about his plan. We want to see his justification for this.”  Mr. Hansen said Mr. Spitzer’s announcement was particularly distressing to lawmakers whose districts are home to the centers and whose communities depend on prison employment.

Now, channeling my nerdy Weird Al, here goes:

Start spreading the news, they're leaving today
soon again to be a part of it — New York, New York
These pisoners shoes, they are longing to stray
Right back to the very heart of it — New York, New York

They're gonna wake up in a city with crime rates down
And think they're king of the hill — but few jobs in town

These prison town jobs, are melting away
They'll need a brand new job to work — in old New York
If they can do it there, they can do it anywhere
Other states should follow New York, New York.

I don't know what's more surprising and disturbing: (a) the fact that Gov. Spitzer opponents seem bother by declining crime and prison population across New York, or (b) that most other states throughout the nation cannot figure out ways to follow the great achievements that New Yok has found a way to achieve.

January 13, 2008 at 04:12 PM | Permalink


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1. The most disturbing thing is that the main objection presented in this story (as summarized in the post, anyway) to giving prisoners a break is that it'll affect the jobs of people who work at prisons.

Anyone who has a job obviously has some right to complain if the decision that eliminates his job strikes him as arbitrary or insufficiently reasoned, and his representatives should go to bat for him to that extent...

...but if the taxpayers will save money and no punishment-related purpose would be adequately served by continuing to keep these people in prison, then the fact that some people work at prisons shouldn't stand in the way.

2. Are New York's prisons as overcrowded as they are in other states. If so, I'd think that New York should reduce the prison population but not reduce the prison capacity.

3. As for whether other states should follow New York, unless your knee jerks at any suggestion that would make "the system" easier on criminals, I'd think people would want to know whether other states share New York's declining crime rate, and whether the administrations in other states would conclude as Spitzer has that releasing a bunch of prisoners and closing a bunch of prisons would save tax payers lots of money without exposing them to undue safety risk.

Posted by: | Jan 13, 2008 4:35:27 PM

Jobs are a large component of our criminal justice system. These folks are all government employees and have unions and political influence. This is unfortunate. Reduction of the prison population is an issue that should be parsed as a financial issue.

We should also consider the excessive amount law enforcement spends paying officers to sit in rest room stalls all day, surf the internet pretending to be little girls, trolling the street in drag waiting to be picked up. There is no dignity in this profession.

I'm not currently familiar with local and state penal institutions, but I have been a frequent visitor in federal facilities and the staffing is remarkable. I'm going to have to write about a few typical visits. If you haven't been there you can't fathom the experience.

County jails are very diverse and totally arbitrary. I think Patterson New Jersey was the most alarming - not because of the prisoners.

Posted by: beth curtis | Jan 13, 2008 11:41:11 PM

Believe it or not, Texas just closed a prison wing and may close more. Not because of policy decisions, but because we practically can't hire enough guards at current pay scales to guard everyone we've locked up, see:


Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 14, 2008 7:35:19 AM

Guards are paid very well, and retire early with full benefits and have a second career. I haven't been in any local or state prisons in Texas, but have visited in Beaumont FCI (the killing fields). It is probably one of the most violent Federal Prisons, and guards and procedure seem to be part of the problem.

Posted by: beth curtis | Jan 14, 2008 9:34:55 AM

As a whole, shouldn't we be praising the fact we need less prison guards? I understand they have a right to complain or feel worried but its damn selfish to encourage more people to be locked up for years on end just so you can have a job.

Posted by: Mark | Jan 14, 2008 9:37:07 AM

Bewth and Mark, in Texas it's not that we "need less prison guards" or that the jobs pay well. This ain't California! Texas' problem is that nobody wants the jobs working in 100 degree summers with no air conditioning for a starting salary of $23K per year - not when the Walmart pays about the same, you work indoors in the AC, and you're a lot less likely to get shanked!

Plus right now, with oil at $100 per barrel, there are a lot more opportunities in TX than these jobs, and a pay hike to make them competitive was estimated to cost $500 million, minimum, b/c COs are the largest category of state employees. best.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 14, 2008 12:01:48 PM

Then, will Texas have to become more selective about sentences? Too bad it's all about the money, honey.

Posted by: Major Mori | Jan 19, 2008 1:37:21 AM

This could be the classic Clintonian 'win-win' situation, if played right. As a previous poster said, keep the institutions open. This allows a reduction in inmate-staff ratios and prison overcrowding, and lets the actual spending drop slowly via attrition. Smaller prison facilites are generally regarded as safer than large ones.

Who wins?

Prisoners and their families - prison presumably becomes less violent and stressful of an experience, with improved healthcare and training/rehabilation opportunities.

Guards- prison work becomes less violent and stressful due to lessened overcrowding and higher inmate- staff ratios. Plus guard morale would improve- they might actually get a sense of being able to help people in smaller, less violent institutions.

Society at large - Prisons become better run and less likely to actively promote criminality

Even the CCPOA would have a hard time opposing reductions in inmate populations as long as their jobs were safe.

Posted by: c sommer | Feb 8, 2008 3:20:34 PM

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