State Launches Prison Site Study Commission

As New York has closed prisons over the years, it has faced difficulties in finding new uses for the shuttered facilities.

Now, Gov. Kathy Hochul is creating a commission to explore possibilities for the properties.

Hochul this week launched the Prison Redevelopment Commission. The 15-member panel will be led by Hope Knight, president and CEO of Empire State Development, and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. The members include heads of state agencies, including Anthony Annucci, acting commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, and leaders from various real estate firms and organizations.

The commission, which first met on Monday, will be tasked with recommending “a clear and credible plan of action” to redevelop more than 20 state prisons that closed within the last 15 years. The panel will meet throughout the year and gather feedback from communities affected by the closures. A public report will be issued at the end of the process.

“As New York continues to move forward, we are looking at ways to revitalize our economy, including reimagining shuttered state prison properties as hubs of regional opportunity,” said Hochul, who announced the commission as part of her State of the State agenda for the year. She added that the goal is to “put New Yorkers to work.”

With a declining incarcerated population, New York closed nearly 20 prisons under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Hochul announced six prison closures in November 2021. The facilities closed in March, including the former Gowanda Correctional Facility.

According to DOCCS, the state eliminated more than 13,000 prison beds and saves $442 million annually from the closures.

But the shuttered prisons largely sit vacant with no plans for reusing the properties. Butler Correctional Facility in Wayne County has been closed since 2014, but there hasn’t been a plan to redevelop the property. The state considered holding an auction, but those plans were scrapped.

Elizabeth Gaynes, the former president and CEO of the Osborne Association, supports the formation of the commission as a way to “meet the needs of communities affected by closures.”

The Osborne Association, which is named for Thomas Mott Osborne, an Auburnian who was the warden at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in the early 20th century, has been working to convert the former Fulton Correctional Facility into a community reentry center with housing for more than 130 people exiting prison.

“I am excited to bring my experiences from that effort, and from decades of working in prisons in every part of the state, to this commission and to learn from stakeholders about how these resources can be repurposed to meet community needs,” Gaynes said.


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