Statement on the Decision to Close Lincoln Correctional Facility

26 July 2019

In May 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) announced the plan to close Lincoln and Livingston Correctional Facilities as authorized in the state budget. With an almost twenty percent reduction in the state prison population in the last ten years, we agree that prison closures are appropriate and needed. We do not agree that Lincoln Correctional Facility, a work release facility located in Manhattan, should be among the closures.

We now face the prospect of losing a vital resource for people returning from prison and for their families. Lincoln is centrally located in Manhattan, allowing easy family visiting and effective reentry planning for local service providers. Despite the many known benefits of housing incarcerated people close to home, NYC has lost nearly all its state prisons in the last decade: in 2011, New York closed Arthur Kill and Fulton Correctional Facilities, with Bayview closing in 2012. What’s more, in an era in which NYC neighborhoods are opposing new jail construction, this community has long accepted Lincoln—a facility that the state cannot replicate and that they will likely sell for a hefty sum, further gentrifying the area for the promise of a one-time cash infusion.

To compound this loss, Lincoln is the city’s last dedicated work release facility for men and among New York City’s last reentry facilities. Shuttering work release facilities runs counter to everything we know about successful reentry. Put simply, work release is the single most effective reentry program ever invented for people coming home from prison. It offers individuals an opportunity to re-establish themselves in their community, build a work history, save money towards housing, and find a safe and stable home before leaving the program.

Created in 1970, work release once offered thousands of people each year a pathway home. In 1993 alone, more than 24,000 people enrolled in New York’s work release program. Despite its proven success, DOCCS enrolled only 294 people in 2016 for this valuable, cost-effective program that promotes public safety.

The seeds of this dramatic reduction were planted during the Pataki administration when the state eliminated work release access for people convicted of violent crimes. This short-sighted policy change came despite the fact that people who serve the longest prison sentences—often for violent crimes—benefit most from work release programs and have the lowest recidivism rates.

And while we understand that Queensboro Correctional Facility may be converted to a partial work release facility, that conversion comes at a steep cost. By reducing “regular” reentry beds at Queensboro, there will be fewer opportunities for thousands of men who come home to the city each year to work closely with community providers and reconnect with families who can meet them “at the doors” upon release.

Rather than reduce vital capacity in one of the state’s highest-need communities, we should consider closing a more isolated facility that provides few of the benefits of Lincoln and Queensboro. New York State should use these two resources for their stated rehabilitative purposes to allow as many people as possible to reenter the community as prepared and connected as possible.

Even with every bed at each of these facilities, New York City is unable to meet many of the needs of people coming home from prison. Today, roughly half of all people coming home are released directly into the city’s shelter system, an unstable environment that lacks the tailored and broad support of successful reentry programs. Lincoln’s work release program could provide people a head start as they prepare for life outside prison, offering a supportive pathway into the workforce and a smoother transition to the community.

We firmly believe that Lincoln should remain open as a work release facility. We are also aware of and support the efforts of the Beyond Rosie’s campaign to promote Lincoln as the city’s sole stand-alone facility for women should Lincoln be closed as a work release facility. We recognize the critical importance of addressing women’s unique needs and strongly support their goal to quickly close the Rose M. Singer Center at Rikers Island. Our principle concern is that Lincoln continue to serve the needs of people in jail and prison, and that we move towards a smaller, safer, fairer justice system.

As we applaud the decision to close prisons and redirect resources, we call on DOCCS and Governor Cuomo to realize the human, public safety, and collective value and benefit that Lincoln currently serves. Many of the current 54 NY State prisons are not proximate to families, are inaccessible by transportation, and do not offer work release. Why choose to close a prison that offers all of these assets to public safety and successful reentry? We urge DOCCS and Governor Andrew Cuomo to rethink this decision and keep Lincoln open.

Thank you for your consideration,
Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services (CASES)
Center for Community Alternatives
Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO)
Correctional Association of NY
EAC Network – NYC TASC & Mental Health Programs (EAC-TASC)
Fortune Society
Legal Action Center
Women's Prison Association

 

For more information, contact Jonathan Stenger, Public Information Officer for the Osborne Association, at jstenger@osborneny.org.