GOWANDA — Citing what they call a lack of transparency, state Sen. George Borrello and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio want state prison officials to pause the closure of Gowanda Correctional Facility — at least until they can justify the claimed budget savings attached to the move.
Borrello, Giglio and state Sen. Patrick Gallivan of Erie County stated Friday that requests for an accounting of the claimed $89 million savings resulting from the closure of the medium-security Gowanda, as well as facilities in Watertown and Clinton, have gone unanswered.
The closures were announced Dec. 21 by the Cuomo administration under an expedited 90-day timeline that was authorized in the last state budget. Typically, the lawmakers said, there is a one-year notification requirement on such a move.
The Gowanda facility, the second-largest in the state, is slated to close March 31. More than 510 corrections officers and another 130 civilian employees work at the prison.
Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, said the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Corp. submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request in January to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for budget figures related to the closure of the Gowanda prison.
“They received a written response that it will take until April 2 — after the facility is slated to be closed — to fulfill their request,” Borrello said. “That is unacceptable.”
He said FOIL requests are supposed to be fulfilled within 20 business days after receipt of the request is acknowledged.
“However, as recent events have proven, stonewalling requests for information is the (Cuomo) administration’s standard operating procedure,” Borrello said.
Borrello said compounding the question of cost savings is the fact that there are reports of major capital investments in Gowanda that are slated to go forward, even though closure is imminent.
The work would be “a colossal waste of taxpayer money” and calls into question the actual savings of closure, he said.
Giglio, R-Gowanda, said he and his colleagues don’t believe the figures cited by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state prison officials in justifying the closings. They want the pause of the closings, Giglio said, to allow for a full review of a breakdown of actual budget savings.”
“Considered together, this seemingly last-minute and illogical plan suggests that the administration did not perform their due diligence when analyzing where closures should occur to achieve maximum cost efficiencies,” the assemblyman said. “That is the problem with allowing an expedited 90-day closure window. Rushed decisions, made behind closed doors and with incomplete information, often end up being poor decisions.”
Anthony Annucci, acting commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, testified earlier this month at a state budget hearing and mentioned the governor’s plan to shutter even more state prisons.
“Based on the continued decline of the incarcerated population, we anticipate additional facility closures in the upcoming two fiscal years,” he said.
The decreasing inmate population is one factor in the closures, Annucci said during the hearing. Since Cuomo took office in 2011, he has closed 18 prisons, realizing $292 million in savings, Annucci said.
As of Feb. 1, there were 33,376 incarcerated individuals in New York’s 52 state prisons, a population that has decreased by 54% since 1999.
State prison officials have said that corrections officers and employees at Gowanda will be given opportunities to fill jobs at other facilities, but advocates say that’s not a realistic avenue for many individuals affected by the closing.
“This decision will devastate the community and force 600 dedicated corrections officers and staff to uproot their lives and those of their families,” Borrello said. “These brave men and women showed up every day for work to ensure the safety of their fellow New Yorkers. They deserve better.”