Local officials: Keep Adirondack Correctional open

No indication that prison is closing, local officials urge governor to keep it that way

Adirondack Correctional Facility, a state prison in Ray Brook, is seen in July 2020. (Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)

RAY BROOK — Elected officials in Harrietstown, North Elba and St. Armand are urging the state to keep Adirondack Correctional Facility off the chopping block as the governor aims to close five more state prisons this year.

Local officials have heard no indication from the state that Adirondack Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in Ray Brook that first opened as a state-owned tuberculosis sanatorium in 1904, could be shut down. But with five prison closures proposed as part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal, and with the state Legislature continuing to piece together its budget, local officials have sent Hochul a precautionary letter underscoring the importance of keeping Adirondack Correctional open.

The letter was co-signed by North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty, St. Armand town Supervisor Davina Thurston, Harrietstown town Supervisor Jordanna Mallach and Saranac Lake village Mayor Jimmy Williams.

“Adirondack Correctional is vital to our region and we trust you share our confidence in its future,” the letter reads.

Over the past 15 years, New York state has closed more than 20 of its prisons, including eight in the North Country.

Both Hochul and her predecessor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have pointed to the state’s declining prison population as a reason to close state prisons. Since hitting a peak of 72,899 people incarcerated in state prisons in 1999, the prison population across the state’s 44 facilities has declined by 121% to 32,918 as of this month, according to public data from the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and a report from the Data Collaborative for Justice, a research group based in Manhattan. This decline was in part caused by criminal justice reforms adopted by the state Legislature and the repeal of drug laws passed under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in the 1970s.

As the prison population declines, many state prisons are also plagued by staffing shortages. There are 3,800 vacant positions statewide and about half of those are corrections officer jobs, according to Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Daniel Martuscello III, who spoke before state lawmakers about what he described as the system’s “unsustainable” staffing crunch at a budget hearing earlier this year. This staffing issue is not unique to New York. In 2022, the number of full-time staff employed at state prisons across the nation fell to its lowest level in more than two decades, according to the Marshall Project, a nonprofit criminal justice news outlet.

At Adirondack Correctional, there were at least 219 staff members, 29 contractors and 32 volunteers at who have contact with inmates as of this past November, according to the audit of the prison submitted to the state on Dec. 14, 2023. There were 255 staff members assigned to the facility in 2017, according to an audit of the prison that year.

In a region where developable land is at a premium, surrounded by vast swaths of protected wilderness, the health of the job market largely hinges on the volume of tourism.

“We live in a part of the state that is economically dependent upon the fluctuations of tourism,” local officials’ letter reads. “One of the few stabilizing economic generators in our region, which offset these painful variations, is the Adirondack Correctional Facility, in which so many Adirondackers work and upon which many more depend.”

Adirondack Correctional had 248 inmates — all male, between the ages of 54 and 83 — incarcerated in 11 inmate housing units as of this past November. The prison had an average daily population of 119 in 2023, according to an audit of the prison. The maximum capacity of the prison is 272, according to the audit.

“There are also many other employees,” the letter reads. “This facility is kept up to date and in compliance with all regulations. It has successful educational and vocational programs and is very safe.”

The joint letter also underscores the potential impact on taxpayers’ utilities — and the impact on the neighboring federal prison — were Adirondack Correctional to close.

“Another important factor in retaining and continuing to operate Adirondack Correctional is the synergy it has with the nearby Federal Correctional Institute (FCI) Ray Brook, which is located on the same road,” the letter reads. “Municipal utilities are also shared between these two correctional facilities. Our state currently provides the regulated water to Adirondack and to FCI Ray Brook. In turn, there is a pumping station at Adirondack Correctional that sends its sewage to FCI Ray Brook for transfer to the village of Saranac Lake.

“Their infrastructures are co-dependent, and Saranac Lake depends upon the fees paid for the sewage treatment upon which the village has made a large investment in its wastewater treatment plant,” the letter continues. “In addition, the town of North Elba is working to develop municipal water for the Ray Brook neighborhood and the system is being designed to accommodate both correctional facilities.”

As of Monday afternoon, the state Legislature had not passed a 2024-25 state budget. The budget was due April 1. If the five proposed prison closures are included in the new state budget, the prisons impacted would receive a notice 90 days in advance of their closure date.

All of the state lawmakers representing this area — state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay and Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon — have spoken out against past and any future prison closures in the North Country.

“I have not received any indication that Adirondack Correctional Facility is closing but I continue to fight to keep our North Country prisons open,” Jones said in a statement Monday.

Jones, who worked as a corrections officer in the past, has said that the state should instead discuss ways to keep staff and civilians in the prison system safe.


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