Bayview and Beacon closures may mean lost opportunities for women in prison

GOVERNOR CUOMO ANNOUNCES PLAN TO CLOSE BAYVIEW AND BEACON CORRECTIONAL FACILITIES

Critical opportunities for women may be lost; Correctional Association of New York urges Governor to continue to downsize prisons and invest in programs that support women, children and families.

NEW YORK, NY (January 30, 2013) – In the past two years, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has closed seven prisons. Last week’s announcement that he plans to close Bayview and Beacon, two of the State’s prisons for women, will bring that total to nine.

Three of the prisons that have been closed or are slated for closure (Arthur Kill, Bayview, and Fulton Correctional Facilities) are located in New York City, the area that was home to nearly 60% of the state’s prison population prior to their incarceration.

Two of the prisons, Bayview and Fulton, offered work release, an effective reentry program that functions best when participants are employed in their home communities.

Over the past 15 years, the female prison population in New York has dropped by 38%.

“The shuttering of women’s prisons is positive and long overdue,” said Soffiyah Elijah, the executive director of the Correctional Association. “However, the Correctional Association is concerned that the closures of Beacon and Bayview may eliminate some of the most effective opportunities for incarcerated women to maintain family ties and prepare for a successful reentry—two key components in reducing recidivism over time.”

With the closures of Beacon and Bayview, incarcerated women would lose opportunities to reside in a prison in New York City, participate in a work release program downstate, and serve time in a minimum-security setting.

As the state’s only minimum-security prison for women, Beacon, located in the Hudson Valley, allows women to serve their time in a more humane environment, facilitating a smooth reentry to the community. Beacon is also the only women’s facility with a community work crew, which is one of the four ways an incarcerated person can earn merit time and early release from prison.

Before it was evacuated due to Superstorm Sandy, Bayview was one of only two women’s prisons in the state that offered a work release program.

“Reducing work release is unjust, wasteful, and ineffective,” said Elijah. “The program costs much less than traditional imprisonment and saves millions by driving recidivism down and allowing participants to contribute to the local economy and pay taxes.”

The New York City area is home to nearly half of the state’s female prison population; more than two-thirds of the population at Bayview had called the New York City area home prior to their incarceration. As the only women’s prison located in New York City, Bayview helped incarcerated women from the area stay connected to their families.

“The stakes are high for families separated by prison, especially when that prison is far away from home,” said Tamar Kraft-Stolar, director of the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project. “Children are harmed when they can’t see their mothers, and mothers risk not only losing touch with their children, but also sometimes losing their parental rights altogether.”

Approximately 70% of women incarcerated in New York are mothers. An estimated 4,000 children have a mother in a New York State prison; nearly 2,000 of those children are likely living in the New York City area. Currently, 37% of women in New York’s prisons are housed at Albion Correctional Facility, which is 8 hours from New York City.

Visiting far away prisons has become even more difficult since state corrections eliminated its free community bus program in 2011.

The Correctional Association urges the Governor to reinvest the savings from the closures of Beacon and Bayview into expanding alternative-to-incarceration programs and replicating the critical opportunities that incarcerated women will lose when these prisons shut their doors.

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About the Correctional Association of New York

Founded in 1844, the Correctional Association of New York is an independent non-profit organization advocating for a more humane and effective criminal justice system and a more just and equitable society. One of only two private organizations in the country with unrestricted access to prisons, the Association has a legislative mandate to inspect conditions of confinement in New York and report its findings to the legislature, the public, and the press. Through coalition-building and leadership training programs for formerly incarcerated people, the Correctional Association works to build the power of the communities most negatively affected by criminal justice policy.

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