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STATE PRISON SYSTEM WILL EXPAND WORK-RELEASE PROGRAM TO CUT COSTS

Over objections from prison guards and Republican lawmakers, the state prison system will expand its work-release program.

Forty-three inmates already in the program in Rochester will be allowed to stay out of prison seven nights a week, instead of the three to four nights now permitted.

Eventually, the state will expand the program statewide -- Orleans Correctional Facility in Albion is the work-release site in Western New York -- and allow 6,000 inmates to participate.

Because more inmates will be in the work-release program, the state will eliminate 58 security positions and 67 civilian jobs to save $695,000 this year and $13.5 million next year.

All told, the Correctional Services Department must eliminate 736 jobs this year to reduce its spending by $27.8 million. It is part of a $1 billion budget-cutting package proposed by Gov. Cuomo to balance the state budget.

The governor has asked the Legislature to approve more than $600 million in spending reductions, while he personally intends to cut $400 million through layoffs and other measures. The Legislature has not agreed to any of Cuomo's proposed the cuts, and a package may not be approved before Dec. 17, legislative sources said Thursday.

The budget negotiations got more complicated Thursday after the board of trustees of the City University of New York called for an annual tuition increase of $200. The proposal is expected to help the State University of New York win a $150 increase next semester, according to SUNY sources who asked not to be identified.

Cuomo said he wants to meet with SUNY officials to discuss a tuition increase, an idea he rejected two years ago.

A top aide to the governor also closed the door Thursday on what appeared to be a concession by Cuomo to the state's public employee unions. Cuomo had suggested Wednesday that a delay in the state's payroll could replace his proposal to furlough most state workers.

But Thursday, Elizabeth Moore, the state's chief labor negotiator, said no such proposal was being considered and the furlough remains Cuomo's plan for saving $135 million.

Negotiators for the state's largest public employee unions said they are willing to discuss the payroll lag.

The governor can make the changes in the work-release program and other significant modifications in the state's prison system without the Legislature's approval, aides said. The Legislature is being asked to approve only an early-release program for about 1,000 inmates with acquired immune deficiency syndrome or other terminal illnesses.

But State Sen. Dale Volker, R-Depew, says Cuomo should consult the Legislature before making major changes in the prisons. He also claimed the governor is using the budget crisis to impose major policy changes on the system.

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