SARANAC LAKE - Gov. Andrew Cuomo's first budget is due in three weeks. While he didn't say in his State of the State message he would close prisons upstate, he certainly left the possibility open.
State Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, reiterated Friday that she will fight further prison closures in the North Country.
"The decisions have to be made based on the impact of the closure," Little said at a Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast. Little argued that there are so few private-sector jobs in the area, and finding reuses for the facilities is so difficult, that the closures should be targeted to areas with more reuse possibilities.
"I think we have to make some cuts, but let's be fair about them," Little said after the breakfast.
In his State of the State speech Wednesday, Cuomo talked about reforming the state's juvenile incarceration system, which he said is cruel and ineffective, shipping juvenile offenders, many of them from the New York City area, to facilities upstate hundreds of miles from their families. He said he understands the needs for jobs in upstate New York, but "an incarceration program is not an employment program. ... If people need jobs, let's give people jobs. Don't put some people in prison to give other people jobs."
"That for us rings an alarm bell," said chamber Executive Director Sylvie Nelson, since the region is "so dependent on these state jobs." Nelson said the region should work to reduce its dependency on the state but at the same time ask legislators to consider the area's needs.
"Our economic well-being is at stake at this point," Nelson said.
The argument that upstate prisons are too far from inmates' families has also been used by downstate legislators as an argument in favor of closing adult prisons in the North Country. Little said she disagrees with this, saying being closer to home makes smuggling contraband into prisons easier. Also, she said, "It's a punishment to be in prison. It's not a vacation."
Speaking with reporters after the breakfast, Little added that prisons farther downstate cost more to operate than ones in the North Country. Little suggested finding savings within the prison system by combining the administrations of prisons that are close to each other, such as the three in Malone.
The minimum-security prison in Lyon Mountain will close later this month, and Camp Gabriels closed last year. The state also considered closing prisons in Ogdensburg and Moriah last year, but ultimately decided against it.
Little said one benefit of the prison closure debates over the past couple of years is that legislators in other parts of the state have become more aware of the importance of the facilities to North Country communities.
"Hopefully they heard enough of us last year that they won't ... but you never know," Little said.
Essex County officials said last week that, whatever Cuomo does, they believe the two prisons in Essex County - Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in Moriah and Adirondack Correctional Facility in Ray Brook - will be spared.
Contact Nathan Brown at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.