Budget Deal Means Prison Closures in New York

By: - April 7, 2011 12:00 am

PRISON CLOSURES: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo drew sustained applause in his State of the State speech in January when he vowed to close unneeded state prisons despite their positive economic impact locally. “An incarceration program,” Cuomo said, “is not a jobs program.” The budget agreement Cuomo hammered out with legislative leaders late last month  follows through on his pledge . It will reduce the state’s prison bed total by 3,700 to save million, though it is unclear which facilities will be affected. Stateline has examined the political difficulties associated with closing prisons in New York, particularly in rural parts of the state where unemployment is high.

INMATE TRANSFERS: Governor Jerry Brown of California surprised local officials when he signed a measure transferring thousands of low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails. Though the plan has been in the works for months — with local officials at the table — it has always depended on the state providing funding to counties to help pay for the influx of state prisoners. Funding for the plan vanished when Republicans in the legislature rejected Brown’s budget proposal last month, but the governor ordered the inmate transfers anyway. “Where does that money come from? What do I quit doing to house the state’s prisoners? Do I release other inmates?” San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore asked . Brown insists there will be money for the plan, though, as Gore points out, it is unclear how funding will materialize.

PAROLE POLICY: Michigan ‘s reluctance to grant parole is costing taxpayers about million a year, according to The Associated Press . While criminal sentences in Michigan are roughly the same as they are in other states, Michigan inmates often must wait longer until they are paroled. On average, they serve about 140 percent of their minimum sentences. “A prisoner sentenced to serve at least five years is more likely to serve seven (in Michigan),” AP reports. “A prisoner sentenced to serve at least 10 years is likely to serve 14 here, while in another state the inmate would serve the minimum or less.” Statewide, 8,000 convicts remain locked up despite having served more than their minimum sentences.

PRIVATIZATION: Florida could privatize prisons and probation services in more than a quarter of its counties. Though they disagree in many other areas, Republican Governor Rick Scott and the GOP-led Legislature both see privatization as a way to trim state corrections spending. The question seems to be how much privatization will occur. The state Senate surprised even its own Criminal Justice Committee chairman by slipping language into its budget proposal to privatize prisons and probation in 18 of 67 counties. The House budget seeks privatization in just two, Miami-Dade and Broward. Meanwhile, one firm that might benefit from the developments is the GEO Group, which already operates private prisons in Florida and contributed ,000 to Scott’s inaugural celebration.

MEGAN’S FATHER: Richard Kanka helped create state and federal laws requiring sex offender registration after his 7-year-old daughter, Megan, was raped and killed in 1994. Now, the man behind so-called “Megan’s laws” is running for the state Senate in New Jersey , The Wall Street Journal reports . Somewhat surprisingly, Kanka says his focus is not on criminal justice matters but on the economy and jobs. “I’m a working man, high unemployment rate, high taxes,” he told The Journal . “I think we need a change here, and I’m the man to do it.”        

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Josh Goodman

Josh Goodman helps lead research on fiscal management and place-based economic development programs as part of Pew’s state fiscal health project. Goodman has served as a primary author for Pew studies that examine how states should evaluate tax incentives and maintain budget discipline when implementing those incentives.