Corrections Union Takes Exception

In response to a poll question launched midweek on the Empire Page when the subject of the previous poll became moot, members of the union representing the corrections officers in NYS (NYSCOPBA) launched a campaign to flood the poll.

The question was whether the State Legislature should have the authority (which it does today) to block the governor from closing prisons without going through an onerous set of procedures designed to give the affected local community time to organize opposition to the prison’s closing.

The results of the poll which I closed tonite in order to start a new poll on Monday morning which is the normal pattern for these polls was 754 votes in favor of keeping the authority to block closures with the Legislature and 139 opposed.

The total number of votes recorded — 893 — is more than 3 times greater than the number of votes recorded for any of the other polls we’ve had on the site since the poll question of the week was launched in August of this year.

In addition to getting out the vote, several NYSCOPBA members wrote emails to me urging me to look at a video from their president which I did.  Basically the union argues that despite a decline in the number of inmates in the state prisons, the prisons are still technically overcrowded and therefore, none should be closed.

Of course the poll question didn’t say anything about the present situation.  We were only asking about the propriety of the allowing the Legislature to delay a decision made by the executive chamber in what is presumably the best interest of the state as a whole.  I am surprised that the law giving the Legislature that power was not overturned by the courts.

If someone knows whether the law was ever challenged on constitutional grounds for violating the separation of powers, please let me know.

One of the emails was very instructive: It read: “There were many reasons for prisions to be located where they are, one is function and work force, the other is economic relief for certain area.  So, of course the body of the peoples elected represnetatives have the authority to fund prisions taking into consideration all of the cercumstances.”

Again the poll said nothing about the procedure for determining where a prison should be located which I do not believe the Legislature directly has any say in.  The poll was asking about closing unnecessary prisons.

But the emailer helps us understand the function of prisons in upstate New York.  They exist in the minds of some as a form of economic development which also provides legislators a means of bestowing jobs to their constituents, which jobs can be parlayed into campaign contributions and campaign workers at election time.

The fact that moving prisoners a large distance from their families is considered by most correctional experts as detrimental to their rehabiliation is not considered as important as helping out depressed areas of the state with jobs that pay middle class wages and provide benefits above what private sector jobs often can afford to provide.

That this entire system is hugely expensive, that it falls most heavily on minority youth from the state’s inner cities and that the length of sentences increased considerably during the growth period of the state’s prison system (circa 1975 to 1985) is also considered by some to be less important than the fact that it provides necessary jobs.

I’d like to hear from others on whether decisions about the number of prisons the state needs should be determined by the need to provide jobs or whether it should be determined by the people chosen by the governor to run the correctional system on criteria they have established for the safe management of the corectional system?

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One Response to Corrections Union Takes Exception

  1. Douglas Boettner says:

    Since the funding to construct and the funding to staff state prisons must be made by the legisture, they have an opportunity to weigh in on where the prison will be built and how it is staffed. The siting of new prisons has always been an enigma to me. As the Director of Contracts for New York State for many years, I would see all of the contracts for the construction and financing of new prisons. I would also receive any and all protests regarding their construction.

    There would be the environmentalists claiming that if the prison is built in a site certain in the Adirondacks, the grey wolf in that areas routine path would disrupted and the wolf would now need to walk around the prison.

    There would be the NIMBY complaints. “My family’s security would be compromised if a prison is built in our backyard”.

    And if a new prison was being built as a replacement and re-siting for an older, outdated prison, the loss of jobs and economic stimulus would be the complaint.

    Then there were the complaints from the inmates and their families about the distance that the inmate was from their home and the hardship it placed on the families.

    With all these competing complaints from the “people”, it seems to me the decision as to where a prison is located, rests with the legislature. Every other interested party at that point becomes a lobbyist for their particular cause. But I don’t think the NYSCOPBA argument for not closing prisons because of overcrowding or because of the adverse economic effect it would have on a locality holds water.

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