ALBANY -- Assembly members and advocacy groups are opposing proposed budget cuts to visitation days at the state’s maximum-security prisons.
If passed, the proposed $2.6 million cut in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget plan would reduce the number of visitation days for inmates at New York’s maximum-security prisons from seven to three days a week.
The reduction would eliminate 39 security positions that would no longer be needed, state officials said.
Assemblyman David Weprin, D-Queens, was joined at the rally Tuesday with colleagues and prison-reform advocates near the Capitol, raising concerns about the cut.
“The amount gained by enacting this proposal does not match what is lost,” Weprin said in a statement.
Critics of Cuomo's proposal said having visitation available seven days a week helps reduce violence at corrections facilities, saying the cut would penalize the families of inmates and is a small piece of the state's $152 billion budget. The prison union is also opposing the plan.
“Compared to overall budget versus humane, rehabilitative treatment of inmates, the proposed cuts pale in comparison to the benefit of providing inmates with a strong lifeline to the outside world and human contact with their families and other loved ones,” Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda, D- Bronx, said in a statement.
The state, though, defended the proposal, saying prisons would look to offset the cut by increasing video conferencing for inmates to communicate with their loved ones.
The state would also maintain weekend visitation hours.
New York has 54 correctional facilities, including 17 maximum-security prisons -- such as Attica, Auburn, Bedford Hills and Elmira.
“Weekend visitations are the most popular as many families have to travel long distances,” Morris Peters, a spokesman for the Division of Budget, said.
“This change – which comes with the expanded use of video conferencing - would be a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars and match the preexisting policy at medium security DOCCS facilities.”
However, video conferencing is just not the same, according to Tina Luongo, an attorney at The Legal Aid Society.
“There is no substitute for in-person visitation, a child cannot hug their father or mother on a video screen or over the phone,” she said in a statement.
“Governor Cuomo must find another way tocut costs – one that does not punish innocent families and increase recidivism.”
The proposal will be part of budget negotiations for the fiscal year that starts April 1.