Last month, New York closed six upstate prisons, each of which had been operating well under capacity. Collectively, the now-closed facilities filled just 43.7 percent of their available beds. They were also overstaffed: more than 1,700 people worked at the six facilities, which detained more than 1,400 people. Statewide, the ratio of corrections officers to incarcerated people was 2.7 to 1 in 2018. As of 2016, that number sat at 3.9 to 1 nationwide.
New York’s prison population has dropped 56 percent since 1999. By dismantling the Rockefeller Drug Laws, which mandated prison time for certain drug offenses and fueled racial disparity in prisons, lawmakers curbed incarceration at no cost to public safety. Reforms that included diverting people to treatment rather than prison made New Yorkers safer.
That fact should guide lawmakers’ thinking as they decide how to spend the financial windfall created by these closures. Shuttering the six prisons will save $142 million a year, giving New York an opportunity to expand policies that build public safety. Here’s what that could look like.
Expand community-based pretrial services
More than 14,500 New Yorkers are detained pretrial each day, but investment in pretrial services would provide support for the safe release of many of them. Qualified service providers can address the housing, health, and treatment needs of people awaiting their day in court. In doing so, they ensure their clients make their court dates and mitigate the risk of rearrest. The San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project shows just how effective these programs can be: its clients make 92 percent of court appearances, and 94…
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