The New York Times editorial page says that Gov. Andrew Cuomo “struck just the right tone” on prison and juvenile justice reform in his first State of the State address this week. He said New York could no longer afford to keep hugely expensive but unneeded facilities open to serve as “an employment program” for upstate residents.
Cuomo will have to push back hard against the corrections workers' unions that have thwarted closure proposals from all three of his predecessors. New York's prison population has dropped from about 71,500 at its peak in 1999 to around 56,000. This has left more than 8,000 empty beds, meaning that the state could close or significantly downsize eight to 10 of the 67 units in the system and still have ample room to handle any unexpected spike in the population. The Times also calls for a reversal of former Gov. George Pataki’s 1995 prohibition on people convicted of violent crimes’ participating in work-release programs and for reform of a parole system that returns as many as 8,000 inmates a year to prison for technical violations like breaking curfew.