ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County officials are still working on a report detailing the economic impact closing Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility could have, and they have been lobbying state and federal officials hard.
Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava and Jay Supervisor Randy Douglas, who chairs the county Board of Supervisors, were in New York City last week, where they saw U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer and discussed the proposed closure with them. The two supervisors updated the Ways and Means Committee of the Board of Supervisors on Monday on their progress.
The county is hiring Colin Read, a professor of economics and finance at SUNY Plattsburgh, to help the Save Moriah Task Force of local officials and department heads prepare the report. The county needs to hire a consultant to put the report together due to the time crunch to prepare it, said county Attorney Dan Manning - the state is supposed to pass its final budget on April 1, although it has been late more often than not in the past. Also, Read has the software that calculates the economic impact of the loss of the 111 jobs the prison provides.
The county board will authorize spending up to $3,800 on the consultant at its regular meeting on March 1, but county Manager Dan Palmer said the cost will likely be closer to $3,000.
Douglas said after the meeting that he has spoken to Gov. David Paterson personally once, and to his staff twice, about the closure, and will meet with members of Paterson's staff again Tuesday. He said he has a 95-page packet of information provided by officials in Columbia County, who had to prepare a similar report when they successfully lobbied to save Hudson Correctional Facility, and he has been using this to help guide their efforts.
Paterson has proposed closing Moriah, Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility in Clinton County, and two other prisons as part of his 2010-2011 budget. The state says these closures would save $7 million in 2010-11 and $52 million in 2011-12.
'Save Moriah' Task Force Members
Sen. Betty Little
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward
Shock camp inmates vs. capacity as of Monday
Lakeview, men: 527, 742 capacity, 71%
Lakeview, women: 102, 120 capacity, 85%
Summit: 115, 150 capacity, 77%
Moriah: 162, 200 beds in staffed housing units, 81%; 100 more beds in unstaffed housing
Monterey: 132, 190 beds in staffed housing units, 69%; 110 more beds in unstaffed housing
Note: Only Lakeview has women
Three of these prisons - Moriah, Lyon Mountain, and Ogdensburg Correctional - are in New York's 23rd Congressional District, which is represented in Congress by Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Owens is working with the communities affected and lobbying Paterson to keep the prisons open.
"We don't want to be paring down just at a time when we need to be creating jobs," Owens said at a luncheon at Paul Smith's College Friday.
Owens also said he is examining using some of the space for federal inmates if one or more of the state facilities closes. The federal system is overcrowded - last August, the Federal Correctional Institution at Ray Brook had 1,227 inmates even though its recommended maximum capacity is 747.
"Our recommendations for closure are really based upon what makes the most sense, from an operational standpoint, for the entire prison system," Department of Correctional Services Spokesman Erik Kriss said Monday. "We really only need three (camps). We have four."
The state expanded eligibility for shock - a six-month, boot camp-like incarceration - last year, but "the difference is not nearly enough to offset the drop in drug offenders coming into the system," Kriss said. About half of all shock inmates are drug offenders. Changes in the state's drug laws last year expanded the number of them sent to treatment instead of prison, and judges had been sentencing fewer people to prison for drug offenses anyway, even before the change. The state's shock system was under capacity as of Monday - there were 1,038 inmates with 1,402 beds in staffed housing units, or 74 percent capacity.
"We don't need it," Kriss said. "We've got enough space in the other three shock camps that everybody who qualifies and is eligible and can do the program will have the opportunity to do it. Nobody's being forced into conventional facilities; nobody's doing more time. They're just going to do it somewhere else."
The state's shock inmates are all processed at Lakeview, in Chautauqua County southwest of Buffalo, before being sent elsewhere. Ten to 12 busloads a year leave Lakeview for each camp, and sending inmates to Moriah costs more, as it is the farthest from Lakeview. Each busload to Moriah costs $2,424.60, compared to $2,096.92 to Summit, in Schoharie County, and $839.34 to Monterey, in Schuyler County.
"Pretty much what they're saying is, they're closing down the facility for an expenditure of less than $30,000 per year," Scozzafava said. "There's not a lot of substance to that argument."
Scozzafava said that the reasons for putting the camp in Moriah in 1987 needs to be taken into account - it was meant to provide jobs to a community that was devastated after the mines closed in 1971, and that doesn't have any other large employers. Thirty-eight of the prison's employees, or 34 percent, live in Moriah.
Douglas said if the state relents on any of the proposed four prison closures he thinks it'll be Moriah.
"We wouldn't be making all these extra trips" if they didn't think that, Douglas said.
"We have a chance. I'll just leave it at that."
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or email@example.com.