This state has just done what most states and nations should do: evaluate all closed prisons for their redevelopment potential

The New York Prison Redevelopment Commission is a 15-member panel convened by Governor Kathy Hochul earlier this year to reimagine closed prisons across New York State for innovative redevelopment (as reported here in REVITALIZATION).

As we continue to move New York’s economy forward, we are investing in communities across the state, including reimagining closed prison properties as hubs of regional opportunity,” Governor Hochul said.

I am pleased that the Commission has done their due diligence and made these recommendations based on community input to create jobs, save taxpayer money, and bring these buildings to new life as economic engines,” she added.

On December 22, 2022, the Commission recommendations unveiled their 140-page report, Unlocking Opportunity: The Report of the Prison Redevelopment Commission. It includes detailed site analyses of 12 closed prisons, and considers redevelopment opportunities for each site to help them revitalize both local and state economies.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “Our team has worked diligently to hear from local stakeholders to provide the best solutions for their communities. The recommendations by the commission bring pragmatic ideas to these facilities, putting them in position to best serve upstate communities for many years to come.

At the direction of the Governor, the Prison Redevelopment Commission — comprised of leading experts in the community and economic development, real estate, criminal justice reform, and government sectors — met with state agencies, community stakeholders, and economic development organizations several times over the past six months to address vacant and blighted prison facilities and develop a set of recommendations for creative uses.

Prison Redevelopment Commission Co-Chair Darren Walker said, “This report lays out a plan to reposition New York State’s shuttered prisons as a source of economic and cultural vitality, ensuring that impacted communities have the tools they need to thrive. We are grateful for the Commission’s recommendations and look forward to seeing these redevelopment plans take shape.

In addition, a team from Empire State Development visited each closed prison in the portfolio and met with local leaders and community members.

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci said, “The Department understands firsthand how valuable redeveloping these properties will be for the communities impacted by prison closures. The Commission’s recommendations offer a viable path forward to reimagine these facilities and expand reuse opportunities that will benefit the businesses and residents in the surrounding communities. I applaud the Governor in the creation of the Prison Redevelopment Commission, the Department is proud to contribute to this initiative and looks forward to our continued partnership in developing these properties.

Ultimately, the Commission drafted 13 recommendations to facilitate the redevelopment of the closed prisons, including:

  • Prioritizing the release of two Requests for Proposals and providing support for ESD through the RFP process;
  • Launching a Prison Redevelopment Fund, a capital grant program that would make funding available to developers and/or localities that acquire sites from the State;
  • Creating a Municipal Technical Assistance Fund to help communities with closed prisons operate the closed facilities (e.g. infrastructure acquisition and maintenance);
  • Establishing a community engagement process to support outreach and consensus building in impacted communities;
  • Prioritizing housing in future prison RFPs or other prison redevelopment efforts; and
  • Investigating renewable energy opportunities and partnerships.

Empire State Development President, CEO, and Commissioner Hope Knight said, “I am proud to have co-chaired this Commission and of the work that has been done to compile this comprehensive report on the future development of our unused and underused prison facilities. The Commission’s work, supported by extensive research and stakeholder engagement, has produced workable and realistic recommendations that will help shape a roadmap for impacted communities to follow well into the future.

New York State is already pursuing a number of actions that will better position sites for reuse, such as:

  • Removing razor wire at the Ogdensburg, Mt. McGregor, and Willard sites;
  • Committing to keeping systems running at Willard, Moriah, and Ogdensburg sites to prevent rapid deterioration of the buildings; and
  • Prioritizing the release of RFPs for the Watertown and Downstate sites in 2023.

New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon said, “When it comes to breathing new life into old structures, no one does it like New York State. I thank New Yorkers for sharing their invaluable input during this inclusive process and I am excited to implement economic solutions that will produce tangible results for communities impacted by the closing of these facilities. I look forward to seeing New Yorkers tap into the new career opportunities that will be created in these communities.

Governor Hochul convened the Prison Redevelopment Commission in May 2022 after the closure of several prisons in upstate New York. In 2021, the State announced the closure of six under-capacity prisons due to declines in the incarcerated population.

New York State Office of General Services Commissioner Jeanette Moy concluded, “After much deliberation, Governor Hochul’s Prison Redevelopment Commission has developed plans to tackle an issue that has created challenges for the state and local communities affected by prison closures. As a member of the Commission, I am looking forward to continuing the work we’ve started toward redeveloping these properties in ways that will benefit those communities and boost the state’s economy.

Overall, more than 20 prisons have closed across the state of New York in the past 15 years.

Photo courtesy of the Office of the New York Governor.

See the full set of recommendations, as well as the status and timeframe for each proposal, key agencies and partners, and implementation guidelines in the Commission’s report (PDF).

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