CHATEAUGAY — While the state says the closure of four prisons, Chateaugay Correction Facility among them, is part of a plan to save money in light of shrinking inmate populations, the statewide prison union argues the move will aggravate overcrowding and put correction officers in danger.
“There has been a drastic decline in inmate population, due to a drop in the crime rate in New York State. Operating prisons with excess beds is expensive and a waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci. “We are rightsizing the prison system and saving money.”
‘ASSET TO SYSTEM’
Chateaugay Correctional Facility is one of three medium-security facilities that will be closing on July 26 along with one shock facility.
Chateaugay Correctional Facility is unique among New York’s prisons, according to Chateaugay Town Supervisor Donald Bilow.
“We think it’s a real asset to the system because it helps to educate parole violators and integrate them back to society,” Bilow said. “It’s the only facility of its kind, I believe, in the state.”
Ninety-seven percent of staff employed at nine other prisons that have closed in the past few years were transitioned to other prisons, state agencies or retirement, DOCCS said in a news release.
‘SAFEST LARGE STATE’
DOCCS called New York the “safest large state in the country” in the release.
In the last decade, the crime rate in New York has dropped 13 percent, causing the inmate population to decrease about 25 percent, DOCCS said in a news release.
At it’s height in 1999, there were 71,600 inmates in New York, DOCCS said. Today, there are 54,200, the state agency said.
While the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association (NYSCOPBA) acknowledges that inmate populations are decreasing, closing more prisons will create a “severe safety risk” for prison employees, said James Miller, public relations director for NYSCOPBA.
“It has a lot of ramifications,” he said of the seven prisons that have closed already under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, calling the closures counterproductive given the state’s “budget surplus.”
“You have violent felons in medium-security facilities,” Miller said.
According to the DOCCS website, as of Feb. 1, about 57 percent of inmates in medium security prisons are violent-felony offenders.
That’s a 7 percent increase since 2004, according to the website.
‘ASSAULTS ON STAFF’
From 2012 to 2013, the number of assaults on prison staff increased by 23 percent, Miller said.
Last week, nine inmates attacked two correction officers at Gowanda Correctional Facility, a medium security prison about 30 miles south of Buffalo, Miller said.
The officers were knocked unconscious and required medical treatment, he said.
“That’s just one incident,” Miller said.
As of Feb. 1, DOCCS had recorded 58 assaults on prison staff statewide.
The union is continuing to communicate with the Governor’s Office, expressing opposition and concern about the scheduled closures, Miller said.
“We are going to send people to Albany to talk to some of the legislators and see if we can get the governor to change his mind,” Bilow said, referring to town council members, county legislators and other locals who have continued to fight the closure.
Senator Betty Little could not be reached for comment on a plan of which she had previously spoken that could save the prison by administratively combining it with Altona Correctional Facility, making “two prisons with one set of administrators.”
“No one has given me any assurance that that’s going to happen,” she said previously.
“It’s not only a problem inside the prison because of the issues that occur, but it also has an impact on the local communities,” Miller said. “They’re (prison employees) part of the fabric of the community. They volunteer, they fund-raise, they’re little league coaches.”
“The prison has enabled some of our young people to stay in the area. Otherwise, they would have to leave to find good-paying jobs,” Bilow said.
There are 111 people that work at Chateaugay Correctional.
“We’re really hopeful that we can turn this around and save this facility. It’s crucial to our area.”
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