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No immediate changes planned for inmate work program

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Prison closures will have no immediate impact on the state Department of Correctional Services’ community service leave program under which inmates work for nonprofit organizations on various projects.

However, that could change once the dust has settled on plans to shutter seven prisons that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has announced will close in response to a declining inmate population and the need for the state to save money.

Peter K. Cutler, a spokesman for the prison system, said confusion has led some nonprofits to be told the program is being eliminated, but nothing has been decided and no changes have been made.

“Work crews will stay as they are until into December,” Mr. Cutler said.

December is when the last of the seven prisons, Arthur Kill Correctional Facility in Richmond County, is to close.

The remaining six prisons, none in the north country, are slated to close by Oct. 6.

Mr. Cutler said once the inmates in the closed prisons have been transferred to other facilities and it is determined where staff may be reassigned, decisions will be made regarding the program’s future.

“At that point, we will make a determination as to which work crews will continue and what the crews will continue to do,” he said.

Capt. Evelyn M. Hopping of the Watertown Salvation Army was among those who had been told recently that an application for inmates’ assistance was being denied because the program was ending.

However, she said, she received a call Tuesday from DOCS informing her that no change will occur until at least the end of the year.

Capt. Hopping said her organization uses inmates to create all of its Christmas food baskets and has also used them to paint around its facility, remove snow and redo a gym floor, among other projects. Hopping said hers wasn’t the only nonprofit that would have been affected.

“It wasn’t just going to be bad for the Salvation Army. They go to churches and other nonprofits,” she said. “We were going to feel it not only at the Salvation Army, but in the whole community.”

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