February 9, 2011 Testimony of NYS DOCS Commissioner Brian Fischer on Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2011-12 Executive Budget before the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees, February 9, 2011
Good morning and thank you Chairman DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell and members of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees for this opportunity to speak with you about Governor Cuomo’s vision for public protection services in the coming year. I am Brian Fischer, Commissioner of the Department of Correctional Services.
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget is about redesigning the delivery of State services, recalibrating State spending to sustainable levels and rebuilding New York’s economy. The fiscal crisis provides the opportunity to accomplish these important goals, and the Governor’s public safety proposals take significant steps in these directions. As part of the overall effort to redesign government, Governor Cuomo’s 2011-12 Executive Budget advances two major initiatives that will enhance public safety, improve the preparation of offenders for successful reintegration into society, transform prison communities and achieve significant savings for New York’s taxpayers: closure of correctional facilities – coupled with economic development assistance for affected communities – and the merging of the Department of Correctional Services and the Division of Parole.
The Executive Budget proposal recognizes excess capacity of at least 3,500 beds in the prison system that impose an unnecessary cost on the State taxpayers. In an executive order issued today, the Governor creates a Prison Closure Advisory Task Force comprised of experts and legislators to recommend the closure of specific prisons. The task force will recommend the closure of specific minimum and medium security facilities after it has engaged the community and received input from a variety of stakeholders. The factors they will consider include efficiency and cost of operations of the facility, planned capital investments and status of maintenance at a facility, and the impact on the workforce. Governor Cuomo also recognizes the potential impact closure will have on communities that have come to rely on prisons as major employers and economic drivers. That is why he is the first Governor in modern times to couple closure with State financial assistance to host prison communities by proposing up to $10 million per location for economic development aid to those communities.
This excess capacity is created in large part by a significant drop in the inmate population. In fact, there has been a 21 percent drop in the inmate population since 1999:
Since late 2008, DOCS has closed five correctional facilities and six annexes to eliminate 2,454 beds and has vacated numerous individual housing units within many facilities. Still, there were nearly twice as many vacant beds in DOCS as of the end of last month (7,937) than there were a decade ago (3,954):
There remain in the system more than 15,000 restricted beds for special needs inmates:
These include beds for offenders serving disciplinary sanctions or in need of any of a range of mandated medical, mental health and other services provided principally at maximum and large medium security facilities. Vacancies in these restricted beds should not be considered excess capacity. In addition, there are a number of unrestricted vacant beds in facilities that provide the mandated medical, mental health and other services noted above. These are among 5,018 unrestricted vacant beds as of the end last year. Because these beds are located at facilities serving a dedicated purpose, that capacity should also not be considered excess, leaving approximately 3,500 unrestricted beds as legitimate excess capacity.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision
The Executive Budget, by merging the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) and the Division of Parole into a new Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, will also redesign the delivery of state services to produce better outcomes and recalibrate the cost of government to more sustainable levels. The plan recognizes that seamless coordination of programs and services for offenders before and after prison will increase their chances of successful reintegration into their communities, bettering their own and their neighbors’ lives by enhancing public safety.
In line with the Governor’s commitment to provide better services more cost effectively, the new agency will undertake several important initiatives in the coming year, including:
• the opening of a new “special needs unit” for female offenders with developmental disabilities;
• completion of a second Residential Mental Health Unit at Five Points Correctional Facility in Seneca County to provide more programming and treatment for inmates with serious mental illness and lengthy disciplinary sanctions;
• completion of a centralized automated pharmacy at Mid-State Correctional Facility in Oneida County that will improve the delivery of constitutionally-mandated medical care to inmates at a lower cost to State taxpayers – and that could eventually provide similar savings to local property taxpayers through the provision of prescription refills for county jail inmates as well;
• exploration of ways to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of administrative services, including a centralized banking system and centralized operation of prison commissaries; and
• expansion of technology to improve services while saving money, including the digitization of inmate classrooms through secure networks.
Moving Toward Effective Redesign, Cost-Saving Recalibration
Governor Cuomo has rightly demanded that every agency of State government fundamentally rethink its operation, redesign the delivery of its services to fulfill core responsibilities while achieving better results, and recalibrate spending to sustainable levels. His Executive Budget requires strong leadership and decisive action to enhance public protection. We look forward to continued partnership with and support from the Legislature to meet these challenges in the coming fiscal year.