Rep. Walczyk critical of Gov. Hochul's jail to jobs program
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
Assemblyman Mark Walczyk says he has some serious hang ups with Gov. Kathy Hochul’s jails to jobs program, which aims to invest tax dollars in educating and transitioning felons back into society.
Her plan would allow former prisoners to collect state aid for college education, provide “competitive wages” to inmates serving time and create a process to expunge criminal records.Walczyk says correctional facilities shouldn’t be solely punitive and that there should be a focus on reducing recidivism through education and opportunities, but he has a problem with the current dichotomy of helping inmates while leaving many corrections officers jobless.
“I don’t want to be totally harsh here because I think it’s important to help with transitioning. We know that if we can get them a job, recidivism is less and that's a good thing,” he said, though he pointed out that such programs already exist to a lesser extent. “What bothers me more is the slap in the face to corrections officers. We’re going to spend taxes on helping inmates find a new job while displacing corrections workers.”
Walczyk is referring to Hochul’s decision to close several prisons in March of 2022. Although Hochul says employees will be offered opportunities to work at other prisons, he says the commutes will be too much for many and will lead to retirements and resignations.
He said that if you compare where the state is economically and who needs jobs, investing in prisoner education shows Hochul is out of touch.
“We’ve already seen that at Dry Hill where many retired way before they wanted to,” he said.
Walczyk says it’s unfortunate that Hochul, who is from Western New York, has chosen to follow Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s closure plan which skirted around long established rules that required an announcement well in advance to closure and a plan that includes community input to help lighten the economic blow that coincides with closures.
In St. Lawrence County, efforts have been made to change Hochul’s mind about closing the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility, which employed more than 268 people when the announcement was made.
Additionally slated for closure are Downstate Correctional, Southport Correctional, Rochester Correctional, Willard Drug Treatment Campus and Moriah Shock Incarceration.
Although Hochul’s plan does include language aimed at studying uses for defunct state facilities, it’s unlikely any such plan would be in place for the facilities set to close in March or the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center facilities that have been left to deteriorate for years.
Walczyk also raises concerns about prisons filling up quickly in the coming year. He said that the number of prisoners is likely deflated due to backlogs in court cases caused by the pandemic, which will likely create a surge of new prisoners as things go back to normal.
He also pointed to Hochul’s efforts to work with the New York City Police Department to bring back what he referred to as “real policing” in the city.
Walczyk offered praise for her efforts to bring back “omnipresent policing,” but said such efforts will likely lead to an increase in the inmate population.
“We just got rid of double bunking. I think with these new proposals and prison closures, we’re going to be right back where we were,” he said.