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Governor plans to close 3 more North Country prisons (2nd update)

January 19, 2010
By NATHAN BROWN, Enterprise Staff Writer

ELIZABETHTOWN - Gov. David Paterson Tuesday announced a plan in his state budget to close four more prisons, including three in the North Country: in Moriah, Lyon Mountain and Ogdensburg.

Shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday, Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava said at a county Board of Supervisors Personnel and Administration meeting that he had received a phone call just after 8 a.m. telling him that Paterson proposes closing the Moriah Shock Correctional Facility on March 31, 2011.

Paterson would also close the minimum-security Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility in Clinton County, the medium-security Ogdensburg Correctional Facility in St. Lawrence County, and the minimum-security portion of Butler Correctional Facility in Wayne County, near Rochester. The Lyon Mountain prison would close in January 2011 and the other two in April 2011.

According to a briefing book on Paterson's 2010-11 Executive Budget, consolidating dormitories and closing these four prisons would save $7 million in the 2010-11 budget and $52 million in the 2011-12 budget, when the closings take effect. The closures would eliminate 572 staff positions, including 419 uniformed officers.

The state Department of Correctional Services "anticipates offering a fillable vacancy to every affected uniformed employee and will strive to identify fillable vacancies for all affected civilian employees," according a fact sheet on its Web site. About 84 security staff leave the state's payroll every month, according to the DOCS, and the department anticipates being able to offer positions via attrition.

Shock incarceration is usually only available to first-time offenders and offers earlier release than a normal prison sentence after completion of an intensive, boot-camp-like program.

Moriah Shock had 102 employees and 170 inmates as of Dec. 31, 2009. It has 300 beds, but only 200 of them are in staffed housing units. It was built on Fisher Hill near an old mining facility after the mines, which were the main employer in Moriah before that, closed, and it incorporated some of the old mine buildings as inmate dormitories.

"If the prison closes, those buildings will sit there vacant for the next 50 years because we're in the Adirondack Park," Scozzafava said.

The 11 inmate work crews at Moriah provide a variety of services to the county, including helping the state Department of Environmental Conservation with trail maintenance and maintaining the county fairgrounds in Westport. The prison pays the town of Moriah $100,000 yearly in sewer fees, Scozzafava said. In Saranac Lake, Moriah inmates are expected to help build the Ice Palace for this year's Winter Carnival, taking over a job previously done by inmates of the Camp Gabriels prison which closed last year.

"We've come to rely on utilizing them to cut the cost of government to the local taxpayers," said Westport Supervisor Dan Connell. "You cut some state funding when you close the prison, but you're putting a lot of that cut right back on the local taxpayers."

"It's hard for me to fathom, yet again, that after the incompetence that led to that (Crown Point) bridge closure, they would do that to Moriah," said Wilmington Supervisor Randy Preston. "From everything I've read and understand, the shock camps work."

Preston said the town of Wilmington uses crews from the camp extensively for spring cleanup of cemeteries and parks.

"Quite frankly, we can't afford to hire out the work they accomplish," Preston said.

The DOCS Web site says drops in crime, a reduction in the number of drug offenders sent to prison and the implementation of early release programs has resulted in a drop in inmate populations that is expected to continue.

Paterson unveiled his budget with a speech shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday.

According to the DOCS, closing Moriah Shock would save $9.5 million in annual operating costs and $695,000 in five-year capital construction costs. Closing Lyon Mountain, which had 91 employees and 135 inmates in 162 beds as of Dec. 31, 2009, would save $7.2 million in annual operating costs and $950,000 in capital savings by avoiding various projects over the next three years.

Ogdensburg had 287 employees as of Dec. 31, 2009; 612 beds, only 490 of them in staffed housing units; and 474 inmates. Closing it would save $23.9 million in annual operating costs and $12.4 million in avoiding five-year capital costs.

The minimum-security portion of Butler had 67 employees as of Dec. 31, 2009, and 72 inmates, with 288 beds total and 144 of them in staffed housing units. Closing it would save $5.2 million in annual operating costs, according to the DOCS.

Camp Gabriels closed last year as part of the state budget. Various reuse possibilities were discussed, but the site now sits unused and no alternate use seems to be in sight. Gov. Eliot Spitzer had also proposed closing it the year before, but it was kept open longer after widespread protest from unions and elected officials.

Gabriels, Moriah and Lyon Mountain all fall within the state Senate district of Betty Little, R-Queensbury.

"Since entering the Senate, I have heard my downstate Democratic colleagues repeatedly call to close our upstate facilities, often citing what they believe to be an unfair counting of inmates in the federal census," Little said in a prepared statement after the budget was released. "Closures not only directly impact those employed at correctional facilities, but there's also a ripple effect that is tough for rural and economically depressed communities in the North Country to absorb. Camp Gabriels, closed last year, now sits empty. I don't want to see the same thing happen at Lyon Mountain or Moriah."

In a prepared statement, New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association President Donn Rowe called the proposed closures a threat to both public and corrections officer safety.

"Any cuts to the Department of Corrections should start with the top-heavy bloated bureaucracy within the agency," Rowe said.

Scozzafava said DOCS did not provide him with a good reason this morning why Moriah was closing, and he was critical of the locations of the prison closures, noting that three of the four are in the North Country and that no prisons downstate were slated to close.

Jay Supervisor and Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas said he received the same phone call this morning and said he had requested a personal meeting with Paterson. Supervisors said they need to work together to prevent the closure.

"It does have a devastating effect on all of us in Essex County," Douglas said.

Douglas suggested drawing up a plan to work with Clinton County to keep Moriah and Lyon Mountain open so the two counties aren't competing.

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Contact Nathan Brown at (518) 891-2600 ext. 26 or nbrown@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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