March 1, 2010

Moriah Shock report touts economic impact

Delegation to argue prison closure will save little


ELIZABETHTOWN — An economic-impact report prepared for the Essex County Board of Supervisors says the Moriah Shock Incarceration Facility pumps about $8 million a year into the local economy.

Board members will be taking the new report with them to Albany today when they go down to meet with area legislators over the proposed closure of the shock camp.

Board of Supervisors Chair Randy Douglas (D-Jay), Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava (R-Moriah) and County Manager Daniel Palmer will also be meeting with the governor's staff and representatives of the State Department of Correctional Services.

Douglas said that previous conversations with Gov. David Paterson and his aides have given them hope that Moriah Shock might be saved.

The governor listed the closure of four state prisons, including Moriah Shock and Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility, as a cost-saving move in his new state budget.

"All of us have an important role," Douglas said. "We have documents we'll present. I honesty feel if any of the four are pulled it will be Moriah Shock."

The economic report, which will be released to the public after it's presented to the governor, was prepared by Colin Read, a professor of economics and finance at Plattsburgh State.

"We tried to stay away from the emotional side of it (closing Moriah Shock)," Palmer said. "We stayed with what the economic impact will be to us."

He said there may be only 100 jobs at Moriah Shock, but in a place like Essex County, that represents 1 percent of the total county job market.

"We're trying to provide that perspective that it may seem like a small amount of jobs, but it's not. We're wholly within the Adirondack Park. It's the state's responsibility to consider how that impacts us who live and work here. We're under a different set of rules than everybody else."

He said solid data were pulled together to create the economic-impact report.

"The loss of that facility (Moriah Shock) is $8 million a year to us. That's almost the same as what they're (state officials) trying to save. That's $9 million."

Scozzafava said the shock program, which uses boot-camp-type training to reform first-time drug offenders, saves the state money because its graduates have a lower recidivism rate than other inmates.

"Hopefully, this report, which is based on factual information, will persuade the Governor's Office, the legislature and the Department of Correctional Services that by the end of the day there won't be a savings from closing Moriah Shock."

A recent letter from Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer to some supervisors was definitive about Moriah Shock closing, but Scozzafava said that was to be expected.

"As far as the commissioner is concerned, Moriah Shock is set to close. The shock population is dropping and so on. Those issues are addressed in the report."

He said it's an uphill fight to keep Moriah Shock open.

"Right now, it's slated for closure. I don't want to build any false hopes. We are doing everything we can within our power. We will continue this fight right up to the (last) day, if they do close the doors."

Next week, he and other supervisors are headed for Washington, D.C., to meet with the region's congressional contingent, including Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Palmer, Scozzafava and Douglas, along with Supervisors Cathy Moses (R-Schroon) and Bethany Kosmider (D-Crown Point), will be in the nation's capital from March 7 through 10.

"There are two different issues," Scozzafava said. "One is the prison, because federal dollars go into corrections. We'll also talk about the Champlain Bridge (replacement)."

The historic bridge to Vermont was closed and demolished, and a free ferry is running until a new span is built.

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