In his State of the State speech this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo once again blasted New York's state prison system, describing what he called the "madness" of mass incarceration in New York.
That tough language follows Cuomo's declaration in his State of the State address three years ago that prisons should no longer be used to boost economic development in rural upstate communities.
In his speech on Wednesday, Cuomo started with the good news. The crime rate is down and so is the prison population; for the first time in decades, New York is pulling back on how many people it incarcerates.
"We are reducing the madness of an incarceration society and ending a system of unnecessary human and financial waste," Cuomo said. "And now we have eliminated 5,500 prison beds."
State Sen. Betty Little, whose district includes a network of state and federal prisons, said Cuomo’s language about New York's prison industry doesn't play well upstate, where corrections work is a major part of the economy.
"It doesn’t, and I think we think differently about crime," Little said. "We think that there should be punishment and penalties for committing crimes, and I’m not so sure that people in the New York City area or the metropolitan area think about that as much as we do."
But the majority of men and women behind bars in New York are from metropolitan areas, and according to Cuomo, it’s actually the moment when they get out and go back home that needs more of the state’s resources.
"The bad news is there’s a revolving door where 40 percent of the people who are released from prison wind up back in prison," Cuomo said.
He said the way to change that is through more job training and more access for the thousands of people reentering society with a felony on their record.
"Reducing recidivism means less crime, it means safer communities, it means fewer tax payer dollars being spent on incarceration," Cuomo said.
Sen. Little, a Republican from Queensbury, says she supports the idea of boosting programs designed to stop that revolving door, and acknowledges that a lot of the vocational and educational programs prisons had in the past have lost funding and aren’t there anymore.
"I don’t think we’re doing a great job in the transitional area as we transition people from the prison population to the community," Little said.
Four state correctional facilities are slated to close this year, including Butler Correctional in Wayne County, Chateaugay in Franklin County, Monterey Shock in Schuyler County and Mt. McGregor in Saratoga County.
The corrections officer union NYSCOPBA is planning a rally in Albany at the end of the month, to try and build support for preventing further prison closures.
In addition to the re-entry council he proposed, Cuomo also argued that New York should raise the age at which kids are prosecuted as adults.
New York state is currently one of only two states—the other is North Carolina—that incarcerates 16-year-olds as adults. Cuomo announced the creation of a committee that will look at changing how 16 and 17-year-olds are prosecuted.