Current law requires a year's notice to be given before a prison can be closed, but a law the state Legislature may take up Monday could get rid of that requirement.
Gov. David Paterson called a special session of the Legislature for 3 p.m. Monday, and "eliminating the notification required prior to the closure of state facilities" is one of the items listed in his proclamation.
Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo called for getting rid of the one-year notification requirement on Monday after a visit to Tryon Residential Center in Fulton County. The boys' side of the campus closed in July, and Cuomo said Monday that Tryon represents a fully staffed upstate home for boys that has no clients and is a symbol of the waste contributing to New York's fiscal crisis.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey: 'The impact on the communities would be huge, and they deserve to have notice.'
The campus still has female residents, however, and the union head there has claimed that the state made an orchestrated effort to make the facility appear empty before Cuomo's visit. The Office of Children and Family Services has denied this. The New York Post, the only newspaper to accompany Cuomo on his tour of Tryon, wrote an article calling the facility empty and quoting Cuomo blasting the one-year notification policy.
The Enterprise has not seen a copy of the law Paterson refers to in his proclamation, and it may not have been printed yet. Paterson's press office did not return a call seeking further information Wednesday. However, it appears likely that the bill will include prisons and youth detention centers among the facilities.
"The one-year notification allows time for those directly impacted, the employees and their families to anticipate and plan for the change," Dan Mac Entee, spokesman for state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said on Wednesday. "It provides local communities that will lose a lot of economic activity time to plan. There's a ripple effect impacting schools, local businesses, volunteer organizations that shouldn't be overlooked or disregarded."
Little's district includes numerous prisons. One of them, Camp Gabriels in Brighton, closed last year, and another, Lyon Mountain, will close at the end of January. A third, Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, was threatened with closure last year but spared. Mac Entee said time is needed to examine the impact of facilities closures on communities.
Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, agreed.
"We can't lessen that," Duprey said. "The impact on the communities would be huge, and they deserve to have notice. I will continue to say that we need to do that, certainly for the people who work in the prisons but also for the communities that depend on them."
Duprey co-sponsored a bill requiring the Empire State Development Corporation, rather that the Department of Correctional Services, to come up with a reuse plan for any prison that's going to be closed six months before it's shut down. That bill passed the Assembly and Senate easily; in the Assembly, Corrections Committee Chairman Jeff Aubry, D-Queens, sponsored it.
Duprey said she has been talking to many of her colleagues about the role of prisons in the North Country's economy.
"I think there's a real recognition of what these facilities mean to the North Country, and we do have to (deal with) them with some reasonableness in mind," Duprey said.
Duprey said the situation at Tryon is not typical, noting that Gabriels had prisoners in it until close to when it closed, and most of the employees at Lyon Mountain have left already.
"Unfortunately, the knee-jerk reaction is, let's change everything based on one event," Duprey said.
Duprey called the proposal "another Paterson thing that he tossed up in the air" and said it should have gone through the committee process.
"This sort of huge change in policy should not be done at the last minute as a stand-alone," Duprey said.
"I see going down and addressing the budget deficit, that's fine; that's got to be done," Duprey said. "But to bring in new legislation with a lame-duck governor with a month to go ... one more time, not the way to run good government."
The bill may not reach the floor, however. It will have to be in proper form and be accepted by the Legislature.
"It's very unclear, at this point, what's going to actually be considered on Monday," Mac Entee said.
Michael Anich of the Leader-Herald newspaper contributed to this report from Perth.