ALBANY — Assemblywoman Marjorie Byrnes (R,C-Caledonia) is raising concerns about the abrupt closure of correctional facilities around the state after last year’s shutdown of Livingston Correctional Facility.

Byrnes claimed that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s inclusion of a 90-day notice period in his Executive Budget, rather than the former one-year phase out period, has had a devastating effect on prison employees, their families and entire communities.

During testimony in Albany, Byrnes said the Livingston Correctional Facility had over 800 inmates and over 300 employees, and “it was virtually at capacity” in 2019 before the closure announcement from the state.

“It was closed very soon within 90 days,” Byrnes said. “This had a tremendous impact on the people, employees, their families, their children. How in 90 days do you get out of a lease, get out of a mortgage, does your spouse change jobs, do your children leave school? These stresses, these factors, these uncertainties are scary to people who are losing their job.”

Byrnes also said the families of inmates were impacted by the closure.

“There’s a lot of inmates who have families who have come to our communities so they can be closer to the people they love and visit them,” Byrnes stated. “Now all of a sudden where are they when within days their loved ones are gone and they’re left behind to have to move to another community?”

Byrnes noted that while many were able to find other places of employment, the impact of over 300 lost jobs has had a ripple effect on the wider area.

“Those are people who went to the stores, went to the shops, went to the pizza parlor,” Byrnes said. “As a result there are people within these communities who lost their jobs because the population base wasn’t there to support the business anymore. There’s a residual effect too and it’s made worse by the 90 days versus a year.”

Byrnes pointed out the taxpayer investments in the Livingston Correctional Facility infrastructure. The assemblywoman said $5.5 million was spent on a new roof that wasn’t finished until after the prison was emptied in September. An $8.4 million water line to the facility is still lacking $300,000 to finish the project, she said, in what has become a “pipeline to nowhere.”

“You left Livingston County holding the water hose on it. They had a substantial investment into that line,” Byrnes said. “They needed the revenue from the Livingston Correctional Facility in order to support the infrastructure that was put in. You pulled the plug on 90 days notice and left them holding the water hose. That is just demonstrably wrong.”

Since 2010, New York State has closed 17 correctional facilities. The state-operated Livingston Correctional Facility was one of two prisons closed in 2019.

In 2011, the Economic Transformation and Redevelopment program was created by state lawmakers to address the issue of prison closures. The program earmarked $50 million in incentives to redevelop empty prisons or create jobs within the surrounding communities.

Cuomo would like to extend the remaining funds in the Economic Transformation and Redevelopment program - $23 million - to all prisons closed after April 1, 2011. This plan has the support of New York State Senator Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, whose district includes the Livingston Correctional Facility, as well as Livingston County Administrator Ian Coyle.

“The abrupt closure of the Livingston Correctional Facility has had a corresponding ripple effect on our county workforce and our local economy. We would like to work with the State to explore our options for community revitalization, including redevelopment of the empty prison and job creation in the surrounding area,” Coyle said. “Prison closures in the past had an extended notice period of the actual closing and the communities impacted had access to potential funds for redevelopment and revitalization. In our closure scenario last year, we received neither benefit. The time is right to correct this wrong.”

In his proposed budget, Gov. Cuomo will have the authority to close as many state prisons operated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) as he deems necessary. The governor claims that DOCCS currently has 2,500 beds in excess of its operational capacity, and Byrnes said it is rumored that he intends to close two male medium-security facilities in the upcoming fiscal year.

“I have witnessed the impact of Gov. Cuomo’s implementation of a 90-day notice period in my own district,” said Byrnes. “It is unjustifiable to proceed with a budget that doesn’t allow sufficient time for prison workers, their families and the families of inmates to relocate and find new housing, schools and jobs. Gov. Cuomo holds a total disregard for the far-reaching effects of a decreased notice period, and I will not support a budget that so greatly affects entire communities.”