Prison closure, injection sites, labor laws strike a nerve

WASHINGTON — Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning) sought to stoke constituent passions on a hot-button issue on Tuesday.

On a call with members of the press, the Congressman railed against several Albany policies. However, he keyed in on the closure of one of the region’s prisons, announced on May 17 by the state Department of Corrections.

Reed called it indicative of the “extremist policy out of Albany.”

The Livingston Correction Facility in Sonyea is one of two prisons across the state to be closed within 90 days, according to the Congressman. While the facility lies in a neighboring Congressional district, many of its employees live in the 23rd district.

The medium-security prison employs 338 full-time employees, and houses approximately 774 inmates.

DOCCS says that the closure of the two facilities will eliminate about 1,200 vacant beds and will not impact security at remaining facilities. The prison’s capacity is 881, meaning that it’s 87.85 percent full with only 107 vacant beds, according to Reed.

“The assessment that we have excess capacity in our prison system does not warrant the closure of our prisons, and is something we will double check," he said. 

In addition to the 338 jobs at direct risk, the Congressman says he expects a wider economic impact to be felt by the community in terms of sales at local businesses.

Reed placed the blame squarely on Democratic legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“To me this is a priority agenda that is truly extreme,” he said, calling it a “Radical left agenda … It’s no longer the Democratic Party of your grandmother or grandfather.”

Reed went on to frame the issue alongside a current debate in the legislature to explore opening two safe injection sites for heroin users in the state.

While the issues have not legislative connection, “It just highlights that you’re compounding the problem, not addressing it,” he said, calling it a wrong-headed response to the opioid crisis.

Reed cited a study by the state of Vermont rebuffing the idea of public injection sites in that state.

“The risk outweighs any benefit of stemming overdose or addiction," he continued.

The argument among supporters is that they lower incidents of overdose death, which the Congressman also refuted.

Additionally, Reed expressed opposition to a state proposal that would extend overtime and workers' compensation benefits to farm workers known as the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act.

"We're watching this very carefully," he said, stating that the policy was being driven by downstate interests who know nothing about the farm workplace. "We'll see how this goes through the system, but farms work 365 days a year, and when you have harvest season it's not like you can turn off the lights after 5 p.m. and come back the next day."